From today’s edition of the Culpeper Times regarding the state park initiative in Culpeper County that would include the Brandy Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Cedar Mountain battlefields:

Civil War Trust offering land for battlefield parks in Culpeper
By Wally Bunker
© Culpeper Times

Several weeks ago, Jim Campi, Civil War Trust (CWT) policy communications director called Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), with a proposal to turn CWT-owned battlefield property at the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain into state parks.

“Yes, we would be interested,” Cristman said he told Campi. “Yes, it is consistent with our mission.”

However, Cristman told Campi that he needed to float the idea to some members the Virginia General Assembly, which determines appropriations and priorities within DCR.

Establishing new state parks hasn’t fared well recently in the General Assembly.

Del. Ed Scott (R-30th), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said what appears to be a simple idea is actually very complex.

“I have been working with my colleagues to increase funding for our existing state parks,” Scott said in an email. “Virginia currently has land that has been donated, but parks have not opened, because we don’t have the funding to establish roads, trails or even primitive facilities.”

Culpeper’s two major battlefields could add to that undeveloped inventory.

Cristman and Campi stressed that the discussion with Campi was “very preliminary.”

“All conversations have been very preliminary, since many details would need to be considered and addressed,” Campi said in an email.

However, Cristman said establishing a Civil War battlefield park in Culpeper County would fill a void of state parks in close proximity. Looking at the DCR website of existing state parks, Culpeper County sits in the middle of a large blank spot, with no nearby state parks.

“This would be unique in that it would be a new state park,” said Cristman about CWT’s overture for Culpeper state parks.

CWT purchased property before adjacent to existing preserved battlefields and donated the land to the federal government and the state.

“We haven’t discussed the mechanism for transferring the lands to the state,” Campi wrote. “Likely, it would be similar to the land transfers we have undertaken at Sailor’s Creek Battlefield and High Bridge Trail State Park.”

Some of those transfers were donated and some sold to the state, according to Campi, with sales proceeds plowed back into preservation efforts elsewhere in Virginia. About 73 percent of the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield was preserved by CWT.

If the General Assembly agreed to establish another Civil War-focused battlefield state park, it would be years away. The state would have to conduct federal and state mandated studies.

At the Brandy Station Battlefield, some of the core battlefield still remains privately owned, creating a patchwork of preserved land versus privately owned land. Several significant private tracts abut Fleetwood Hill, which was purchased and preserved by CWT. The Trust owns 1,901 of the Brandy Station Battlefield.

The Brandy Station Foundation owns 38 acres at the foot of Fleetwood Hill, along with the Graffiti House that served as a hospital during the Civil War. Troops from both sides scribbled names and drew pictures on the walls, which has been uncovered and preserved.

“Regardless of whether the state park idea has any legs, the Trust remains committed to preserving battlefield land at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain,” Campi wrote.

Campi said CWT continues to “have quiet conversations with private landowners” about preserving additional properties

DCR Director Cristman said a number of issues must be considered before determining the funding needed, such as how and where it would operate.

If the General Assembly liked and funded the idea, it could take years for a Civil War park to open in Culpeper. Before a new park opens, DCR partners with local government and the community to determine how the park operates and services offered.

“Localities really benefit,” said Culpeper Tourism Director Paige Read, who volunteered to lead the local effort should DCR consider CWT’s offer. “There is nothing but positives here.”

Read believes the creation of a state park would be a boon to tourism in the county. Plus, she added, Virginia nationally markets its park system.

State parks experienced almost 9 million visitors last year, an increase of 1.4 percent from 2013, said Read.

“State parks are tremendous,” said Read, noting Virginia maintains 36 state parks.

She said that every dollar spent by the general fund generates $12 for the local economy.

Noted local Brandy Station Battlefield historian and a founding member of the Brandy Station Foundation Bud Hall is optimistic that the historic cavalry battlefield will become a state park.

“I hope it happens,” said Hall. “I think one day this is going to be a state park.”

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at wallybunker@outlook.com

There’s an old cliche that says that those with weak stomachs should never watch either sausage or legislation being made, because neither is a very pretty sight. The process of creating this state battlefield park will neither be quick nor will it be pretty. But it needs to happen, and we need your support in order to help to ensure that it happens. If you support this initiative, please write to the newspaper editors to express your support, and please write to the Virginia assemblymen to express your support.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to preserve these battlefields.

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