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NPS launches study of historic sites

Posted: December 30, 2010 11:46 a.m.
Updated: December 31, 2010 5:00 a.m.
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When President Barack Obama signed the Omnibus Lands Bill in March 2009, it marked another step forward in a years-long process to turn the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site and the Battle of Camden site into a joint national military park.

Since then, those interested but not intimately involved in the process may have thought no progress was being made, especially in a time of federal dollar belt-tightening. That’s because, according to a recently published National Park Service (NPS) newsletter on a special resource study authorized by the 2009 bill, the project has just been initiated.

For winter 2010-2011, the NPS study planning team will work on identifying the project’s scope and issues, and seek public input at times and locations to be announced in the near future. The newsletter said the study will take approximately two years to complete.

Initiating the project is Step 1. Step 2, to take place over the course of spring and summer 2011, will be to determine the significance, suitability and feasibility of the project by consulting with “subject matter experts.” Those meetings, the newsletter said, would “determine the site’s level of significance, uniqueness and manageability to become a part of the national park system.”

“It’s very exciting,” said Historic Camden’s executive director, Joanna Craig.

Craig said NPS officials have told her they hope to have the study done a little sooner than their fall 2012 deadline. Part of the hope behind that, she said, is that much of the research into both Historic Camden and the battlefield sites has already been done.

“Some of that we have done, unlike some of the other requests for national parks,” Craig explained. “In partnership with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation (PCF) … we’ve already done extensive research … there’s a website … a lot of documentation. We’ve already done that here.”

She was also emphatic about the need to preserve both the battlefield and Historic Camden.

“There are 800 to 900 ‘first citizens’ there that need to be honored and protected (at the battlefield). Since the (British) garrison was here, it makes sense for (Historic Camden) to be a national park, too, because (the Colonists) wouldn’t have been coming to Camden if they weren’t trying to take it,” said Craig.

The Battle of Camden site, as defined in the newsletter, is a 1,300-acre site approximately 8 miles north of Camden. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, five years after being named a national historic landmark. In 2002, the PCF purchased 310 acres of the core battlefield; the Hobkirk Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution donated another six acres. In 2007, the PCF purchased another 160 acres of battlefield, bringing the total to 476.

That’s another 824 acres to go.

A little more than a year ago, the PCF and its partners opened 3 miles of interpretative and hiking trails to the public. They include the Great Wagon Road Trail, tracing along what used to be a north-south corridor for people populating the southeast; East Battlefield Trail, the longest of the interpretative trails, focusing on the attack at dawn and General Nathanael Gate’s disgrace as a commander; West Battlefield Loop Trail, across Flat Rock Road, interpreting Baron de Kalb’s involvement in the Battle of Camden; and the Eastern and Western hiking trails.

The Camden battlefield site’s significance, suitability and feasibility as a national park unit will first involve making sure it is living up to its previous designation as a historic landmark. Such sites are or do at least one of the following:

• “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to … the broad patterns of United States history;”

• associated with nationally significant historical persons;

• “represent some great idea or ideal of the American people;”

• embodies an historically American architectural type;

• collectively, with other parts, compose an “entity of exceptional historical or artistic significance, or outstandingly commemorate or illustrate a way of life or culture; or

• scientifically important “by revealing new cultures.”

The proposed park’s suitability can be shown by representing a “natural or cultural theme … not already adequately represented in the national park system or is not comparably represented or protected for public enjoyment by another land-managing agency.” The NPS newsletter said that can be determined by comparing and contrasting the battle site’s character, quality, quantity, combination of resources and opportunities for public enjoyment to similar facilities.

The feasibility of the project will be determined on the basis of landownership, acquisition costs, access, threats to the proposed park’s resources, staffing needs and development requirements.

Staffing is an issue, according to the NPS newsletter. The NPS said that in order for the battle site to be a part of the national park system, it must be directly managed by NPS staff instead of being protected by a private entity. Step 3 of the study, slated for the fall of 2011, will look at that option, and others.

“This typically involves the transfer of lands to the Department of the Interior for protection and operation by the National Park Service,” the newsletter said. “However, in some cases, a different arrangement may provide appropriate protection and opportunity for public enjoyment.”

Those options include management by another federal or local agency, non-profit or private organization. However, the NPS said national park system status would not be recommendation unless one of those options was “clearly superior” to being taken over by the NPS.

All the same criteria will be used to determine if Historic Camden, located on Broad Street just south of downtown Camden, should “graduate” from being an affiliated NPS site to a full national park. The NPS study defines the Historic Camden site as 107-acres, “the site of the original village of Camden, established in the mid-1730s as Frederick Township. A map in the newsletter shows a border for the site. The eastern border is just behind the Kershaw-Cornwallis House, with the western border actually crossing to the Lugoff side of the Wateree River; the northern border follows a line along King Street, with the southern border almost reaching I-20.

Charles Baxley, chair of the Battle of Camden Advisory Council, said he has been impressed with the work the NPS study staff -- based out of Denver, Colo. -- is doing.

“They have been here several times, reading records and walking the battlefield,” said Baxley. “It’s exciting being a part of something that I think is being done so well. I’m hopeful we’ll get a good recommendation.”

Baxley said he didn’t know when the NPS would call for public comment on the proposed park and believes the staff is focusing on the management aspects of the proposal.

“Right now, I think they’re looking at the integrity of the site and the problems they might have from a management point of view. They will probably call Joanna and myself at some point, talk about their time frame and ask us what works. They are very supportive of the community,” Baxley said.

He also said that he believes the NPS is being very diligent because they’ve had some “weird” experiences when it comes to figuring out exactly what should comprise a park area -- especially in urban settings.

“They had a situation where a building in downtown Philadelphia was part of a national park,” said Baxley, who said he asked the NPS’ Tom Thomas about the area designated in the newsletter for Historic Camden. “I think that was a quick and dirty layout by their GIS department -- getting in the neighborhood. I told them they need to ‘put this area in, take this area out.’”

Baxley said he believes the public will see that border change. He said he also suspects the NPS is looking at costs associated with managing either site, how to present the sites to a park-going public and any impediments to both.

“It’s more than just the story of the battle,” Baxley said.

For example, Baxley mentioned Zemp Stadium in terms of its impact on Historic Camden’s “integrity.”

“It’s not a deal breaker -- there’s no one thing that’s a deal breaker -- but there are things to identify. The final report may read like a management feasibility report. I know the people doing it will spend a lot of time making sure the study is very thorough so that if and when Congress says ‘Yes, we want to do it,’ the study will become a roadmap,” he said.

Historic Camden was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969; the Kershaw-Cornwallis House rebuilt in 1977; and the site made a NPS affiliate in 1982.

“The site includes the archeological remains of the town and British occupation site … seven restored structures (that have been relocated to the site) and reconstructed fortifications and powder magazines,” the NPS newsletter noted.

The NPS is also working on another study impacting Kershaw County: the Southern Campaign of the Revolution Historic Area. The concept is to link battlefields and other sites important to the Revolutionary War’s southern campaign, providing tourists, students and the public a better understanding of the campaign’s importance to the Colonist’s eventual victory.

Baxley said he thinks it is “great” that the NPS’ studies on the two projects are overlapping.

“The big picture is the entire southeastern campaign. It’s synergistic; one can’t be understood without the other. The Battle of Camden is best told in terms of the Battle for Hobkirk’s Hill and so on,” said Baxley. “When I was a kid growing up, I knew there were a couple of battles around, but if you don’t know anything about their context, you can’t understand what it’s about.”

Baxley said he hopes a national Battle of Camden park linked with the Southern Campaign heritage area will give visitors a chance to, over a five- to seven-day period “go places and get a sense of who was in the war, why they were here and the contribution of the (colonies’) success to the whole revolution.

“It’s our opportunity to have the best mouthpiece of all: Smokey Bear rangers saying, ‘Look, here it is. It tells our story, ‘our’ being the South,” said Baxley.

What is also important to local interests is the possible economic impact a national park would have on the community.

Kershaw County Economic Development Director Nelson Lindsay said it would be hard to come up with a specific dollar amount, but did think national park status would have a positive impact.

“It would depend on the (scope) of the park that would ultimately come about,” Lindsay said. “It would depend on what the NPS would have in play. I think we would have more people from outside the community that would be made aware of both the site and Historic Camden.”

Lindsay said he believes that would result in more day than, necessarily, overnight visitors.

“But that would still lead to eating in restaurants and visiting local stores as well. To me, the impact is more along the lines of local spending from visitors as opposed to jobs being created at the park, although I’m sure there would have to be at least a handful of people to work at the site,” he said.

Step 4 of the Battle of Camden study will be to publish the “study document” and distribute it for public and agency review. The study is slated to be published in the spring of 2012. Step 5 -- the transmittal of the document and the NPS’ recommendation to congress is set for the fall of 2012.

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