Monday, October 5, 2015

State finalizing work on Resaca battlefield, will turn it over to NW Georgia county

Ed Bearss discusses Confederate trenches at Resaca (GBA)

John A. King may have put it best when talking about the protracted birthing of a historic site that will interpret the Battle of Resaca during the Atlanta Campaign.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said the Gordon County administrator. “Sometimes, good things take a while.”

That “while” refers to a 20-year campaign to build and open a park just off I-75 in northwest Georgia. Supporters have been frustrated by false starts, permit problems, negotiations by state and local governments, construction delays and a massive road project at the interstate interchange. Officials had hoped Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site would be open well before May 2014 for the battle’s sesquicentennial – but that didn’t happen.

Now there's good news.

David Clark, chief engineer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, recently told the Picket that final items of additional construction should be completed by the end of the month, with a transfer of the operations and maintenance to Gordon County after that.

Ken Padgett, a leader of the Gordon County Historic Preservation Commission and Friends of Resaca Battlefield, said, “It looks like we are close, but the final punch list (to do list) is in the very near future and hasn’t been agreed upon as yet.”

King says the county will need a few months to inspect the site, ensure all infrastructure is ready and have it up and running. He said he’d like to see it open by May 2016 for the battle’s 152nd anniversary. Officials may be able to provide some access before a grand opening.

Master plan for the historic site (DNR)
Old GBA map shows visitors' center that was dropped

Initially, King said, the 505-acre park will be open from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on the weekends.

“What a wonderful place to go on a Saturday afternoon and walk with your family,” he said.

The state has provided infrastructure, including a 2.2-mile road to the center of the site and walking paths.

“There is a lookout pavilion at end of the road, parking and roadside stops along the way with parking,” said Clark. “Further, there is interpretive signage in several locations to inform visitors of the historical significance of the site. There are and over 5.5 miles of trails, mostly in the woods.”

The state dropped plans for a visitors' center during the economic slowdown a few years back.

King said county officials will ensure the site is preserved and, in conjunction with other facilities -- including Fort Wayne and the Resaca Cemetery -- educate visitors and schoolchildren about the Civil War’s significant impact on Gordon County.

Pavilion and trail at new site (Photos: Georgia Battlefields Association)

“We see it as a lot of different opportunities. Not only does it reinforce the value of the historical significance of site, it gives us opportunity to promote greater tourism, community development and recreation.”

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said visitors will see well-preserved trenches from both sides and most of the battlefield on the early afternoon of May 14, 1864. Late-afternoon action is on the east side of the interstate. The GBA helped pay for a conservation easement in 2010 that protects the site.

On May 13-15, 1864, Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Tennessee bloodied each other at Resaca. There was no clear winner, but Sherman continued his march toward Atlanta, which he took several months later.

The fighting at Resaca demonstrated that the outnumbered Confederate army could only slow, but not stop, the advance of Union forces.

An annual re-enactment is held on a different portion of the battlefield, at Chitwood Farm.

Interstate 75 actually runs through the middle of the Resaca battleground, making the Civil War site literally just an exit ramp away. Exit 320 currently has no hotels and little fanfare. 

Example of sign at Resaca historic site (DNR)

The state site at the Ga. 136 exit covers a portion of the western side of the clash.

In March 2012, the Civil War Trust closed on the purchase of 51 acres of another portion of the Resaca battlefield, about three miles northeast of the new park.

Local residents began pushing for the park in the 1990s and the state acquired the property. The Friends of Resaca organized support and raised money. Finally, Georgia appeared poised to build the visitors center after a October 2008 groundbreaking.

The Department of Natural Resources realized it did not have the money to finish the project. 

Frustrated, Gordon County stepped in and took over, agreeing to do the construction and staff and maintain the facility. But in March 2010, citing costs and inherited permit problems, Gordon County punted on building the site. The state agreed to take the project back, with the caveat that the county would operate it once the work was done.

Fall 2008 groundbreaking was a tad premature (GBA)

The construction contract was awarded in May 2012 and the contractor started work in the fall of that year. The work was mostly done a year later but the Georgia Department of Transportation project produced some “complications,” including access to the site. A second contractor finished work on a redesigned entrance, Clark said.

The ongoing DOT project includes interchange widening and reconstruction on Ga. 136, two bridges and approaches. The DNR has been able to install a main gate and front signage for the battlefield site.

“Because of its limited access, to a significant degree this historic site is also a good nature preserve,” said Clark.

Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site is in a flood plain and the state built a raised road.

There have been some very heavy rain periods that have flooded the site since construction was completed but the road has remained well above the water level,” Clark said. “In the rare event that water does raise to the road elevation, the site will simply be closed for a week or two, cleaned and reopened.”  

103rd Ohio is the only monument on the battlefield (GBA)

Padgett, a longtime advocate for the historic site, said he and King stopped by on Oct. 5.

“Several issues are still to be addressed by DNR. I do think that we are close and DNR is having final site work actively underway at this time,” Padgett said. “I appreciate the work that Gordon County and DNR has done to ensure that the park is open to the public very soon.

(Padgett told the Picket on Nov. 3 that rain has delayed final site work, but he expects work to be done around the end of the month.)

King said while the site will be self-guided he expects a park guide to serve as a host and to provide maintenance. The estimated cost of operating the site is $84,000. While no admission charge is forecast, visitors will have an opportunity to donate to help the upkeep.

The administrator said Gordon County has worked with the state to ensure the trails are easily identifiable and walkers don’t get lost. The site will have controlled access so that employees can ensure its cultural resources are not disturbed.

King said he expects a related website to be built and the county will want some kind of billboard on I-75.

Clark said his agency has not had discussions with the DOT regarding an I-75 sign. “There are criteria regarding the projected number of yearly visitors to get a sign approved, which may prove to be a difficult hurdle for this site.”

Padgett said the Friends of the Resaca Battlefield are seeking donations to complete the historic trails interpretation signage and other projects, such as trail benches. 

Gordon County, King says, is excited about the park.

“It is going to be a unique location,” he said. “(It’s) one of the few battlefield sites that have not been available to the public. It is an untouched site.”


No comments:

Post a Comment