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More than history buffs' haven
Area battlefields are also natural areas that have to be maintained and protected

 Russ Smith, the new superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, says working with local governments, developers and preservationists to protect the sprawling battlefields here is a top priority.
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Date published: 1/4/2004


Battlefields harbor natural areas and abundant wildlife

Each time a new subdivision or store goes up in the vicinity of one of the Fredericksburg area's four Civil War battlefields, it has an impact--on the animals.

"Birds and animals can move. Fish can move up to a point, but if all the land is developed outside the park, it's unfortunate for the animals inside. It can lead to stress on the existing animals and on the incoming ones," said Gregg Kneipp, natural resources manager for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park .

There may already be too many deer living in the Fredericksburg battlefield, where hunting is prohibited.

"That will be an issue in the future and could be an issue in the rest of the [battlefields] later," Kneipp said.

Meanwhile, wildlife surveys are in the works, he said. "We want to know what we have." A 1991 survey identified some rare plants.

The national park consists of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg battlefields, the park's Chatham headquarters in southern Stafford and a few other small tracts. The park's boundaries encompass about 8,000 acres; there are 23 miles of trails, 1,500 acres of open land and 6,500 acres of forest.

Kneipp's office makes sure that any projects undertaken within the park follow federal environmental guidelines.

"A lot of what I do is compliance," he said. For example, a plan to return a portion of Sunken Road to its wartime appearance required an environmental assessment. That restoration project will begin this spring.

The same review was needed recently for the removal of two small dams on park property.

Even farming on open space in the park requires a review and permit. Low-impact farming, requiring little or no tilling or pesticide use, for example, is encouraged.

In the next few months, there will be a controlled burn on 19 acres of the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield to control some native warm-season grasses planted about five years ago. "That's about 5 or 6 feet tall," Kneipp said, obstructing part of the view for visitors.

Invasive plants, such as Japanese honeysuckle, also must be controlled periodically, and water-quality monitoring is done regularly.

Park Superintendent Russ Smith said the Park Service has a dual mandate to protect historic and natural resources.

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