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More than history buffs' haven page 2
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

By RUSTY DENNEN

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"We are held to a high standard," he said. "Whatever we do has to go through environmental impact statements and assessments."

Any clearing is subject to federal environmental review.

Smith said it would be preferable to have a clear vista below Chatham Manor, the park's headquarters overlooking the Rappahannock River. "But we can't just go down to the riverbank and whack down a tree."

Smith recently toured one park boundary and learned that there are other issues outside the protected property.

"A lot of our neighbors support us, but with others, there's dumping of trash, [prohibited] recreational uses, informal trails," he said.

The park, in turn, has a responsibility to its neighbors. For example, many residents depend on park roads, so those roads must be kept clear. In September, Hurricane Isabel felled thousands of trees, many of them within the four battlefields, and some on park neighbors' property.

Smith recognizes that many residents use the battlefields for cycling, walking and jogging.

Spotsylvania County Supervisor Hap Connors would like to see those recreational opportunities expanded.

"I respect and understand the mission of the Park Service, but I have heard people bemoan the fact that there is limited use," Connors said.

For example, he said, the Park Service turned down a request last fall to route a 20-mile run on a battlefield road. "I think that could have introduced a whole new demographic to the value of the parks. It was kind of a no-brainer," Connors said.

Park officials said approving that run would set a precedent that would open the battlefields to all kinds of similar uses.

Environmental and natural resources are important, but secondary, considerations when it comes to park programs and funding.

Smith said an ongoing budget crunch will probably be noticed by visitors this summer.

The park has an annual operating budget of about $3.5 million, of which 90 percent goes toward personnel costs.

"We'll be having fewer summer programs, and we'll be hiring about half the number of seasonal workers," he said.

Hours may be cut back, grounds may not be kept up as well, and the grass may grow a little longer before it's cut.

"Frankly, it doesn't look like it's going to get any better," Smith said.

To reach RUSTY DENNEN: 540/374-5431 rdennen@freelancestar.com


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