GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s one of the most famous locations on one of the most famous battlefields in the world. Why?
“On the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863, The union troops were able to rush up to this position, and defend this position as part of the overall Union line,” explains Jason Martz, Communication Specialist for Gettysburg National Military Park. The defense of this point blunted a Confederate attack on the left flank of the Union Army. The location-Little Round Top.
Every year Gettysburg National Military Park gets around a million visitors. Most of them end up at Little Round Top during their tours. “It offers a fantastic view of much of the battlefield,” Martz said.
But all those people, over almost 160 years, have been rough on the hill. The asphalt paths are crumbling, and in fact undermined, in many areas.
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“Many of these locations have eroded very badly, away from these paths,” says Martz. “In some cases many feet, not inches, feet. And this is causing serious safety hazards.”
These safety issues include potential damage to the foundations or the monuments. Even where there are no erosion concerns, there are issues with accessibility and parking. Martz says the park also wants to see improved signs and markers to make it easier to understand the battle on the hill. All these issues have forced the National Park Service to make a drastic decision.
“We will be closing down the entirety of the hill because it will be an active construction site,” says Martz.
Many of the current paths will have to be rebuilt from scratch. One of the things they’ll have to deal with is trails made by people who go off the trails.
“We call those social trails,” says Martz. “Those are the trails that are offshoots of the main paved locations that have ultimately been utilized as shortcuts.” Some of these paths will be kept because they’re actually useful. “We recognize that some of those trails just need to be there in order to access some parts of the hill.”
Others need to be removed because they go straight up the hill. “And the problem with straight up the hill social trails is that’s where the worst erosion takes place, because the water and the force of the water that runs off of that, creates gullies and creates more and more problems farther downhill,” says Martz.
Then, of course, there’s the parking. “One of the major issues that we hear from visitors, no matter what mode of transportation they use to get here, is that the parking is not enough,” says Martz. But don’t expect to see any bulldozing to create additional parking space. Their plan right now is to work with what they have. “And although we’re not necessarily putting in any more parking, we’re making that available parking in that footprint easier and much more safe.”
Park officials estimate the repairs will take 12-18 months. Work will start sometime this spring-but right now they can’t tell us exactly when.
“We’re still in the process for the final contracting. And at this point, we don’t have the exact details of what exactly is going to happen, because we are in the bid process.”
Whenever the work starts, and whenever it ends, Jason Martz says the final result will be an improved experience for visitors.
“We’re going to almost double the accessible footprint here on Little Round Top. So we’re really going to try to make this first and foremost safe, second, accessible, and really address how this hill is visited by the average battlefield visitor.”