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Md. officials promote South Mountain park

September 21, 1999

South Mountain ceremonyBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




BURKITTSVILLE, Md. - While this village has gained notoriety recently for a fictional ghost called the Blair Witch, local preservationists brought attention to its true and more meaningful history Tuesday.

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Burkittsville is nestled on South Mountain, the site of Maryland's first major engagement of the Civil War. About 6,100 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in the Sept. 14, 1862, battle.

Their memories were honored Tuesday as Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer promoted the idea of creating a state park at the battlefield.

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"Once it's paved over, once the houses are built, the battlefield is lost, the history is lost and a piece of our country is lost," Schaefer said.

He and other state and local leaders were on hand at Gathland State Park to designate the battlefield as one of Maryland's historic treasures, eligible for preservation funding next year.

A newly appointed task force will study whether the costs of staffing and maintaining a park would be offset by money raised through tourism, said task force Chairman George Brigham.

The task force will meet for the first time this month to begin work on a report to be given to the Maryland General Assembly by January.

Few people know the history of South Mountain, which possibly altered the course of the Civil War, said Mark Snell, director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Union troops beat back the outnumbered Confederate forces along three gaps in the mountain, setting the stage for the Battle of Antietam three days later.

While Antietam has been preserved as a national park, South Mountain's history was lost until about 10 years ago.

Brigham became interested in the area's history because his home was a backdrop for the battle.

The Central Maryland Heritage League was founded to protect the battlefield land from development. About 15,000 acres has been sheltered through easements and land purchases.

When Schaefer was governor, Maryland became the first state to use federal transportation funds for battlefield preservation. Millions were used to purchase the development rights and protect 4,500 acres at South Mountain and Antietam.

The next step is to create a state park within the 25,000-acre South Mountain battlefield.

"What's happening now, I'm flabbergasted. This has been a dream come true," Brigham said.

Farmer Richard Pry, whose great-grandfather and great-great-uncle fought on opposite sides at the Battle of Antietam, said it's also important to preserve the area's farms for future generations.

"Our farms are being consumed and developed by houses," said Pry, whose family has farmed there for more than 100 years.

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