Civil War battle site purchased for park
97-acre site near Myersville is situated in Frostown Gap
A 97-acre tract of land near Myersville that played host to scenes of intense fighting during the Civil War's Battle of South Mountain will soon be a part of South Mountain State Park.
The land, purchased through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Program Open Space, will become a part of the 13,000-acre park, according to Meredith Lathbury, the director of land acquisitions for the department. The property, which cost $903,725, is the first in Frostown Gap in the public domain.
Program Open Space is a state program that allows for the purchase of lands for public areas of recreation and parks. Since 1969, it has provided funding for acquisition of 349,404 acres for open space and recreation areas.
Lathbury said the state had been interested in the property for a while, and leapt at the opportunity to purchase such historically significant land.
"It happened to come on the market. We're always keeping an eye on properties, especially one like this with its historic value,' she said. "Today it remains very similar in character to the landscape as it remained during the Civil War."
Dan Spedden, manager for South Mountain State Park, said park rangers and interns from the park had already done some basic research into the property, which will make it easier to integrate into the already existing property.
"We've been pursuing it for about a year," he said. "We're excited about it. We had a couple of interns who studied that area as part of their college education, and got a real intelligent look at the significance of that piece, so we're preserving what is a very legitimate battlefield."
Spedden said the plan is to basically leave the area as is, only including some placards with information about the battle, and areas for people to park their cars.
"Short-term we'll make it a tour stop," he said. "Eventually we'll develop a nominal amount of parking ... You're not going to see a paved parking lot with lighting. It'll be park of a larger tour."
He said the rangers will be trained in taking tour groups to the site and explaining the significance of the battle, and that the lack of tree growth in the area makes for a more illuminating picture of what happened in the battle.
"When you stand at the western limit of that property, you get this fantastic view," Spedden said. "And if you're standing with someone knowledgeable, like one of the rangers, they can fill you in on the history. It gives you a perspective you won't get driving on tree-lined country roads."
Another significant benefit about the property is the fact that it's never had development, as it's been active farmland. This allows the park to maintain the area as it was in 1862 without having to make difficult environmental decisions to return it to its former state, he said.
"It was an agricultural field in 1862, and it's still an agricultural field," Spedden said. "We don't have restoration to do. It's interesting to see it in that condition. If an area gets 100 years of tree growth, I don't know if you should deforest it. At that point, it's an ecologically and environmentally poor decision. Here we have a field that was in agriculture for 150 years we can maintain it that way."