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Historic Camden to focus on battlefield site in 2018

Posted: January 11, 2018 3:44 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site Executive Director Halie Brazier told Camden City Council during its first meeting of the year Tuesday night that the park will be focusing a lot of attention on the Battle of Camden site this year. Brazier made the comments during a presentation on 2017 Historic Camden accomplishments that included a look ahead for both the main site in Camden and the battlefield, about 8 miles north of the city.

Historic Camden took possession of the 476-acre battlefield and longleaf pine preserve in April 2017 from the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, which had held the land for 15 years. The National Park Service; S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) and others recommended the transfer of ownership following a 2016 study. That study suggested the two sites could serve as “bookends” and allow for local management of the battlefield and longleaf pine preserve.

Brazier said Historic Camden has three categories of priorities for the battlefield: history, ecology/natural resources and recreation. History, she said, would continue to be the primary focus.

“We want to continue archeological work that has been done out there, and we are also wanting to provide some additional interpretive signage and create new tours, to bring people out there, especially using the Broad Street site as the launching pad,” Brazier said, adding that Historic Camden also continues to be involved with the annual commemoration of the Battle of Camden at the battlefield.

Secondly, Brazier said Historic Camden will continue to work with the Katawba Valley Land Trust, which set up a conservation easement with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, regarding the longleaf pines at the battlefield.

“We’ve developed a 10-year forestry plan … following the easement that Katawba Valley Land Trust has over the site and we’re really interested in bringing that forest back to what it was during the Battle of Camden, during the 18th century. Right now, it is a mixed pine forest -- timbering companies used it for decades and decades (and) most of the longleaf pine had been destroyed by that time,” she said.

Brazier said she hopes to bring in new audiences to the battlefield site through the reforestation and preservation work -- people she said might be more interested in the ecology and biology than the history of the site.

“We’re looking at developing new tours for that as well,” she said, “actually showing over the years the growth of the trees (and) doing things at different phases so we can use the actual tree growth as an education tool for kids. Most of this stuff, as we aim toward the reforestation and it being a beautiful longleaf pine forest -- most of us will not be alive for that.”

Brazier later explained that such growth is measured over many decades, between 75 and 150 years or more, but that Historic Camden is looking forward to “getting the ball rolling” on that work.

As for possible recreational opportunities, Brazier said Historic Camden is looking to develop new trails for walking, running, cycling and horseback riding at the battlefield, along with other activities. In this regard, Brazier said she also believes new audiences can be developed from a sports tourism angle.

Brazier said Historic Camden is also considering whether to build some sort of protective structure at the battlefield site that might also be used as a meeting spot; restrooms; transportation from the Broad Street campus to the battlefield; interpretive signage for new tours and the longleaf pines; maintenance; marketing; and maps and wayfinding.

All of this focus on the Battle of Camden site does not mean the main Historic Campus will be neglected in 2018. Earlier in her presentation, Brazier said a bid is currently being worked on for expanded restrooms as well as for grants from Duke Energy and the Stevens Foundation for other work.

Meanwhile, she also looked back at 2016 and 2017, noting that Historic Camden, with the city’s assistance, adopted a 2016-2020 strategic plan; elected new Historic Camden Foundation Board of Directors leadership; obtained a $250,000 SCPRT grant for deferred maintenance and renovation projects at the Kershaw-Cornwallis House and gift shop; obtained more accommodations and hospitality tax funds (HTAX and ATAX) as well as private grants for marketing purposes; updated its website and installed a digital point of sale system; developed new programs and events; and saw increases in participation in existing events.

She also talked about ongoing events, including Revolutionary War Field Days.

“For that, this year, we had a really wonderful turnout. We had almost 3,400 people come to that, and we had had about 370 reenactors there in addition to that. We really see growth with that, and we are already looking forward to 2018, but we’re really gearing up for the 2020 edition, because that will be the 50th anniversary of that event, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Historic Camden, and also the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Camden.”

Brazier mentioned new events as well, such as the inaugural edition of the Revolutionary Run Half Marathon.

“Another new audience we reached (was) people interested in fishing, using our fishing pond,” she said. “We partnered with S.C. DNR (Department of Natural Resources) to have a fishing rodeo and we had 350 people come to that -- all kinds of families. It was really great to show off our site to new audiences.”

In addition, Brazier mentioned the Colonial Brew To-Do last spring, which attracted people from Columbia, and that Historic Camden’s Halloween event jumped three-fold in attendance from 500 people to 1,500.

“We were not expecting that kind of jump, so we were very pleased,” she said.

Following Brazier’s presentation, City Councilwoman Joanna Craig, Brazier’s predecessor as Historic Camden’s executive director, noted that the Battle of Camden tract is a National Landmark Site and wondered if a previous plan to make the same designation for the Broad Street campus was still being pursued.

“Right now, we’re really focused on the battlefield, and what we can do there, so those plans are put on hold for now. There’s also some concerns that we heard from National Park Service staff that their budget is really not allowing them to expand much,” Brazier said.

Also Tuesday, council unanimously voted to adopt the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s 2018 advocacy initiatives. They include:

• encouraging business growth and development by standardizing business license tax collection processes across the state;

• providing quality services by updating the state’s Local Government Fund formula to ensure a reliable municipal revenue source, increasing flexibility for municipalities to raise revenue to support specific capital projects, allowing cities to annex certain enclaves by ordinance and increasing flexibility for municipalities to more effective use local hospital ATAX and HTAX and victims assistance funds;

• increase funding for law enforcement by increasing reliable funding to offer more training opportunities for officers, increasing funding for body cams and equipping municipalities with the tools needed for law enforcement to combat the opioid crisis;

• expand funding sources for infrastructure by increasing municipal representation on county transportation committees, increasing funding for drainage projects to mitigate flood-prone areas and identifying funding sources for relocating municipally-owned utilities forced to move due to road and bridge construction; and

• reduce blight by establishing options to recover public funds spent to demolish/clean blighted property.

Council also unanimously approved a Leader’s Legacy bench recognition for William L. Owen III.

In other business:

• Councilman Jeffrey Graham reported on activities from the joint Kershaw County Board of School Trustees/Kershaw County Council ad hoc committee on school resource officers and growth. Graham, who is a member of the committee, said that even though the committee is focused primarily on county and school district issues, there will be items for the city to look at as well, including collaborative efforts on tourism and attracting small business.

• Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford presented a special “Coin of the City” to Councilwoman Deborah Davis for her “excellent work” as mayor pro tem during 2017.

• City Manager Mel Pearson reported that East Hampton Street was in the process of being repaved Tuesday and Wednesday, ending that project; he also said the remaining playing lines for the courts at the new tennis complex on Campbell Street should have been in the process of being applied Wednesday.

In addition, Pearson said the city is in the process of gathering materials to propose making the intersection of Market and Rutledge streets a four-way stop. He noted there are already stop signs on the Market Street sides of the intersection, but that the S.C. Department of Transportation (Market Street is a state-owned street) wants to help the city move forward on the proposal. Pearson said the agency’s participation will require an advance warning for all four sides of the intersection despite the pre-existing stop signs on Market Street.

Council ended the meeting by going into executive session to discuss a legal matter involving a potential lawsuit, but made no comment and took no action after coming back out into public session.

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