02 November 2007 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 13 comments

There is a proposal to build a huge indoor water park in the Gettysburg area, four miles south of the battlefield park’s southern boundary and near the gigantic Boyd’s Bears place that is already extant. They have proposed to build the sort of place with tubes and slides, all of that sort of stuff. That it’s to be an indoor facility means it will be open year-round. From what I can see, the developers have not suggested building it near or on the battlefield proper, so it won’t infringe upon any particular battlefield viewsheds.

There are some folks who take the attitude about this sort of thing that the NRA takes: we can’t possibly do anything that might be construed as giving even so much as a fraction of a millimeter, because if we do, the sky will surely fall and life as we know it will end immediately. If General Hossenfeffer’s horse took a big dump there, then it HAS to be a historic spot and we MUST save that spot at all costs, and no matter what. And any and all development is evil, so we have to fight it at all costs, irrespective of whether the opposition is rational, and irrespective of whether the opposition makes us look like a bunch of unreasonable lunatics.

Then, there’s the NIMBY crowd. NIMBY is an acronym that means “not in my back yard”. These folks generally are in favor of progress so long as it doesn’t affect them. Then, they resist it with alll of their heart and soul out of sheer selfishness. We have lots and lots of problems with the NIMBY crowd here in Central Ohio. I can’t tell you how many good ideas were killed by the NIMBY’s. They’re so incredibly selfish that they can’t see beyond the boundaries of their properties and recognize that the greater community might benefit from something that the NIMBY’s might not like. The NIMBY’s seem to be pretty effective in Gettysburg.

Finally, there’s the pragmatic approach. I fall squarely into this camp. Don’t get me wrong–I will fight like a cornered animal to save actual battlefield land that’s endangered. I have done so in the past, and I will do so in the future. I think that my public record of working closely with the Civil War Preservation Trust demonstrates that I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I’ve given my professional time, too. Earlier this week, I gave a wholehearted endorsement of the uphill preservation fight being waged by the Hunterstown Preservation Society to preserve and protect their beautiful little gem of a battlefield.

However, just because General Hossenfeffer’s horse might have taken a big dump on a parcel of ground while going from one place to another does not necessarily mean that the spot where the dump was taken is worthy of preservation. Yet, there are plenty of people who take the position that this is ground that must be preserved (see the NRA-types described above), no matter what.

The fact of the matter is that progress–and development–is inevitable, and I firmly believe that the preservation groups with the most credibility–and the best records of accomplishment–are the ones that recognize this fact and pick and choose their battles wisely. Some fights just aren’t worth fighting, and fighting those fights harms the credibility of those who really believe–as I do–that the key to saving ground is often working WITH the developers than to declare war and reduce everything to a zero-sum game. Earlier this week, I put up two different posts wherein I applauded developers for working WITH preservation groups to save important pieces of ground.

There’s also the issue of limited resources. The simple fact is that there is not enough money to save every conceivable piece of ground. Something HAS to go. Personally, given a choice between saving some old house where General Hossenfeffer had dinner or using those same scarce resources to purchase a parcel of honest-to-goodness battlefield land, that’s a no-brainer for me. I’d rather see the battlefield land saved even if it means sacrificing General Hossenfeffer’s bivouac. Ultimately, that piece of battlefield land is more important.

My opinion is that if we accept the proposition that development is inevitable, and if we also accept the proposition that you can never save EVERY possible piece of historic ground, then the sensible approach is to find a way to work with these developers to the extent possible before pulling out all the stops and going to war right away.

All of which brings me back to the water park proposed for Gettysburg. Let’s face it: Adams County, Pennsylvania is not an affluent community. Its economy is driven by tourism and the apple business. Bringing in tourist dollars generates revenue and creates jobs. So, while I’m definitely not crazy about this idea and definitely think that it’s not something that should be that close to the battlefield, I also recognize that if the water park does not butt up against the battlefield, and if it does not hurt the viewshed, then I say, what’s the objection? What’s the problem? Hence, I am really not sure how I really feel about this proposal. I definitely see both sides of the argument, but when push comes to shove, I can’t come up with a good reason to go ballistic fighting something that will not be built on or even particularly near the battlefield proper.

I recognize that not everyone will agree with me on this and that this is one of those topics that can bring about heated, passionate arguments. I don’t expect you all to agree with me. But let’s keep the discussion about this civil, okay?

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 02nd Nov 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Of course, a great deal has to do with what’s being erected. A ‘water park’, especially an INDOOR water park is less problematic than a racetrack or some sort of amusement park with lots of rides (like Six Flags) or, heaven forfend, a casino. It is probably better than some sort of shopping mall because those things tend to spread past their original site if they can.

    As well, children coming to such a facility might just eventually get the opportunity to see the battlefield especially during a re-enactment and such exposure sometimes creates life long ACW enthusiasts.

    Also, if it helps the neighboring communities economically, that also has to be a plus. Those of us who wish to preserve this history are not helped by gaining the reputation of destroying the property values of anyone living in the vicinity of one of our pet projects!

    It sounds to me that – always providing it didn’t negatively impact the preservation area – this would not be a bad thing. In fact, it might even be a GOOD thing.

  2. Steve Basic
    Fri 02nd Nov 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Eric,

    Put me down in the I agree with you column. How many of us regular battlefield visitors ever get down that way in the first place? 4 Miles away is better than 4 inches away. You can’t save everything down there. I will just add I don’t live there, so it’s up to the locals to either fight it or accept it.

    Hope all is well.

    Steve

  3. Don
    Sat 03rd Nov 2007 at 9:28 am

    Eric,

    I find myself in complete agreement with Valerie. It’s not on the battlefield. It has the potential to bring more tourists to the area and possibly more young people to the battlefield. It should help the local economy. I can’t imagine how it would impact dedicated battlefield visitors, as it’s a decent distance away from the battlefield and most of the DBVs aren’t the water park type anyway.

    Everything can’t be saved. From what I read in your entyr, I don’t see a reason why preservationists would be inclined to fight this. It doesn’t seem like there’s ever enough money for key battlefield land that needs to be saved.

    But as Steve points out, I’m not a resident and I don’t have to live there…

    Don

  4. Rob Wick
    Sat 03rd Nov 2007 at 11:12 am

    Reasonable position Eric. I’ve often complained about the tactics used by some of the more zealous preservationists because they remind me of radical environmentalists that I had to deal with during my journalistic career. If you don’t agree with them on every detail, you are against them. If I was a developer who had millions to invest I would want a sure thing. A battlefield that brings in millions of people is a sure thing. And let’s face it, not everyone who goes to Gettysburg is there to see the battlefield. If Mom (or Dad) and the kids don’t feel like tromping around, something like this would be good for them to do. Plus, if battlefields are supposed to be pristine, rip out all the paved roads and really make it like it was.
    Best
    Rob

  5. Mike Nugent
    Sat 03rd Nov 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Bottom line from my perspective is that you’ve got to strike a balance and vigorously protect significant areas while at the same time recognizing the rights of property owners and businesses to develop, make a living etc. It at least initially seems that the location for the propoesd park wouldn’t infringe on those visiting the “battlefield” (that is the battlefield within the NPS boundaries).

    There is certainly a lot more historically significant ground that’s been lost to developement with barely a whimper. Personally I think this should be up to the folks who live nearly to decide if they want it there or not. Otherwise there are hundreds of miles that saw something of the Gettysburg campaign that need to be reclaimed and restored. It’s just not realistic.

    The possibility that “other” attractions to Gettysburg might spark interest in the study of the battle is also a great point that’s worth considering. I know a family here in Maine that was visiting relatives and Hershey Park and only went to Gettysburg because it was relatively close and they needed a break from the amusement park. They ended up becoming serious students of the Civil War and now make a CW related trip every year.

    Mike

  6. Phil
    Mon 05th Nov 2007 at 9:50 am

    Let the filleting (is that a word?) begin.

    Go back and read most of those posts. Wouldn’t just about all of them permit the casino? I believe the bottom line on the casino was not the battlefield, but the lack of revenue it would provide the state – it was one of the smallest, if not the smallest, casino presented and would have lost major dollars to Maryland when they legalize their casinos. The battlefield impact was relevant, but not nearly as much as some think it was.

    In PA, each township MUST provide an area for any activity that is legal – whether it’s a casino or a water park. That’s state law.

    Now, my opinion on the water park. Adams County’s latest unemployment reprot was 3.9%. That’s full employment by any economic measure. Therefore, I’m not buying the jobs issue. If we get jobs around here, we don’t need them to be minimum wage ticket takers and ride operators – we need skilled and technical jobs. The park would likely generate large real estate and amusement tax revenues – which would be offset at least in part by increased demand on the township’s infrastructure.

    As for NIMBY – if it were in my back yard – I’d be fighting it in a big way.

    Regards,

    Phil
    I

  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 05th Nov 2007 at 2:21 pm

    The problem is that obviously the land is ‘up for grabs’; that is, it isn’t sitting fallow with nobody interested in it. Ergo, the chances are SOMETHING is going to be erected. I used the ‘casino’ reference not for the money it would bring the State (all that usually means is more money for politicians to buy there way into office in perpetuity), but because of the type of people who are drawn to such things. True, there are little blue haired old ladies taking the bus down the Jersey Turnpike to Atlantic City, but for every innocuous casino visitor, there are a lot more of a less innocuous nature. On the other hand, water parks don’t attract much in the way of troublesome clientele except for people like myself who shouldn’t be seen in bathing suits! And since it’s an ‘indoor’ facility, at least that problem won’t lower real estate values.

    It may be that the area needs a better grade of employment than would be found at such a facility, but there are always young people looking for their first job who would fit the bill as employees. Better to have them learn the value of a dollar than sit at home playing video games.

    And then there is the fact that tourists might come and, by extension, get to see the battlefield and gain – as an earlier poster remarked – an appreciation for history.

    All of the above is a good thing. The bad thing is this: if not an indoor water park, then WHAT? If you think that the water park would be a burden on the infrastructure, try a few hundred houses and see that that gets you! Or what about some factory whose appearance and product might cause the locals to long for the good old days of water parks and even casinos?

    We would all like the open spaces to remain open, but if that’s not going to happen, then it is wise to consider the alternatives to what is being proposed. It just could be that the next ‘option’ is worse than the last.

  8. Mon 05th Nov 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Phil – I’m not so sure about your first statement… one reason I think so many (including myself) were against the casino’s proximity to the battlefield was what it was perceived to attract. In other words, what type of atmosphere would have been created in the county and area. As in my case, I’m in Eric’s camp with the waterpark – I’m not against it at this point. In fact, it could be good for the area, especially regarding kids. Dang good excuse for getting your kids to Gettysburg, I say 🙂 Anyway, in my opinion the difference between the casino and a waterpark is like deciding whether one wants a Bada Bing or a Burger King. (Steve Basic, no comments from you, please.)

    🙂

    J.D.

  9. Steve Basic
    Wed 07th Nov 2007 at 1:29 am

    J.D.,

    🙂 See you in Gettysburg next week.:)

    Steve

  10. Charles Kann
    Sun 18th Nov 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I saw this blog, and I wanted to post. This is an issue I care deeply about.

    I very much appreciated the message. I personally get upset when I find preservationists who are against every development proposal, and waste their time fighting meaningless battles when there are real ones that need to be looked into.

    This water park is several miles from the Battlefield and town. It is near Route 15 which will minimize traffic problems, though as with any development I hate what it does to the local roads. The site does not represent any historic events that I am aware of. Also I cannot find any viewscape that it really destroys, so I do not understand what preservationists find so horrible. I will agree that the project should be watched to make sure it will not get out of hand (e.g. the size should be less than the 200 acres, it should be indoor and limited in height, and I do not understand the need for a 7000 seat concert hall). But these are things that can be negotiated and the water park can be made a positive part of the Gettysburg experience.

    I have heard so much in the preservation community about this water park (which is not on historic land), and the preservationists are spending all their capital on this red herring. All the while a real tragedy is taking place, the building of a Target and a housing development on Camp Letterman. Camp Letterman is a real, historic site in Gettysburg, and it will soon be lost forever. All the while preservationist are fighting the water park.

    If preservationists want to fight, fight over something that means something (Camp Letterman). These useless, inane battles to stop any development are wastes of time and resources. Development will happen, and rather than opposing every instance of it, preservation needs to have a place at the table. But while preservations are fighting these battles against any development which will be lost in the long run, we are losing an important piece of history. It just completely frustrates to me.

    Thank you for letting me state this on your blog.

  11. Sun 18th Nov 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Charles,

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, although I will say this: it seems to me that the Camp Letterman site was bound to be developed sooner or later. It also had little to do with the actual battle; what happened there was post-battle. Consequently, I don’t feel particularly strongly about its preservation. If it was bound to be developed sooner or later, why wasn’t that site chosen for the new visitor’s center? It might not have been preserved perfectly, but at least some of it would have been preserved in a fashion that emphasized its historic past, and it would not have placed the new visitor’s center on important battlefield ground in the form of Kinzie’s Knoll. I know I’m in the minority on this, but I try to be pragmatic about this stuff.

    And you’re very welcome. Feel free to join in the discussions here whenever you like.

    Eric

  12. Stephanie
    Mon 19th Nov 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Hi there,

    I moved here from Prince George’s County Maryland two years ago and live in the impact area of this Entertainment complex proposed by Cali Entertainment. We have no public water and and also have no lands set aside for our own public enjoyment in Cumberland Township. Further, our neighbors in Freedom township nor did the residents of this township, envision ANYTHING on this scale could go in when considering Mixed Use. Folks down here on this end are a bit more pragmatic than “radical preservationists or environmentalists.” If you took the time to review where the Mixed Use applies and the tracts of land up to the ending of the designation (which is right up to the boundary line – sorry guys) this project IS a threat. Note: I have ancestors that fought on this field, real ones not pretend ones18 times removed. I love this place. I also spent the first 10 years of my working life working for Developers. I know all their tricks – some projects were great and some stunk – they made money on them all and left out on to the next deal. So, if you think this isn’t a problem….you think again. They will start that munching sound and they won’t stop. Remember, Dr. Martin Niemoller…..when you casually thrust this aside as being inevitable. Windy fatalism? I love this place, I love what re-enactors do, Mr. Bearss is a God and this waterpark idea stinks. How about a bit more than typical Pennsyltucky mentality here…how about working together with landowners wanting to sell, helping solicit buyers that will build to suit for us, eh? I just think that folks NEED to plan ahead and not be taken “by the tail” when an idea is pitched that doesn’t conform to the ordinances and requires this much of a nightmare to wend through and so much angst for everyone. No formal studies have been done as to water, septic or environmental impact yet. the traffic study was done, laughingly in the first week of May, Tuesday the strips went out, Sunday they were gone – THIS is the data they used at two different sections of Emmitsburg Road to conclude the “traffic will be managable”….So, as we move on…The Ling farm is a casualty now – as is their right they took advantage of an “offer they couldn’t refuse” – their farm site will be a parking lot. It’s on the plans in the township offices, Fairfield Road. Yeah, out with the old and in with the new, right? That’s how history is made. Sad that with so much non profit type of businesses here…this has to be the means to the ends…the volumninous non profits are costing the other business owners in profits going to taxes they should be bearing – this is what the commercial community states so…here we are….lets’ build something that we don’t have the infrastructure for from an entity that has never done such a venture in their corporate lives 🙂 Yeah…it’s a good thing. sure. right.
    Stephanie ~

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