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Saving battlefields pays

May 17, 2005 1:53 am

By RUSTY DENNEN

Jim and Becky Buss of Birch Run, Mich., are fairly typical of the thousands of tourists who stop by the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center.

They’re interested in Civil War history and pack in several sites during the short time they’re here.

“We’re on a tour of the East Coast,” Jim Buss said yesterday as the couple prepared to drive their blue SUV to Spotsylvania battlefield sites.

And like the 80,000 visitors who stopped by the visitors center last year, they spent money at area bookstores, gas stations, restaurants and hotels.

“I figure we spend $100 to $150 a day here,” said Jim Buss. The middle-age couple’s final destination is North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

According to the Civil War Preservation Trust, the economic benefit from Civil War tourism is substantial. And now, for the first time, the group details just how much it brings in. The new report, “Blue, Gray and Green,” examines from where and what types of visitors come here.

The study, by an independent research firm, surveyed tourists, documented what they spent and calculated how their visits affected tax revenues, job growth and retail sales in surrounding communities.

“Civil War battlefields are not just national treasures,” said CWPT President James Lighthizer. “Each one is also a treasure trove of benefits for its neighboring community.”

The point, he went on to say, is that now’s the time for preservation.

“Millions of Americans are willing to spend their money to visit these historic shrines—as long as local officials have the wisdom not to pave them over.”

That’s been an ongoing battle in the Fredericksburg area, with one high-profile success recently. More than 100 acres of the Chancellorsville battlefield adjoining Fredericksburg & Spotsyvlania National Military Park was purchased by the CWPT last year for preservation. The deal was a cooperative effort involving the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors, Tricord Homes and the preservation group.

Fredericksburg-area battlefields were also featured prominently in an article in National Geographic’s April issue about the nation’s disappearing Civil War sites.

Thirteen battlefields are included in the trust’s report: Antietam, Md., Bentonville, N.C., Brice’s Cross Roads and Corinth, Miss., Franklin and Shiloh, Tenn., Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania and New Market in Virginia, Gettysburg, Pa., Perryville and Mill Springs, Ky., Port Hudson, La., and Wilson’s Creek, Mo.

While most are administered by the National Park Service, some belong to state and local governments and private entities.

The report found that Civil War tourists spent about $174 million at the locations, bringing in about $15.3 million in state tax revenue and $7.7 million in local tax revenue.

Also, every 702 out-of-town visitors to a battlefield translated into a new job in the community.

Four battlefields make up the national park here: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.

According to the report, those created 965 private-sector jobs.

“A battlefield is a powerful magnet for the most desirable tourists in the marketplace,” the report goes on to say. “Civil War tourists at every surveyed site went shopping, used local transportation and spent money on admissions, historic services, food and beverages during their visit.”

Tourists spend about $20.5 million here annually, the report says. The average visitor spends about $54.87 per day.

In one rough calculation several years ago, the national military park figured tourism spending to be about $13 million annually.

Russ Smith, the park’s superintendent, said yesterday that it’s obvious the impact is large and growing.

“The trickle-down dollar amount” of Civil War tourism in the local economy is well-documented, said Karen Hedelt, Fredericksburg’s manager of tourism development. Battlefields will play a prominent role in upcoming promotions, she said.

Trust spokesman Jim Campi said the numbers will help local officials understand another dimension of the battlefields’ value.

“One of the interesting things about this report is that Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania compare favorably with the other sites.”

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





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