Tree Cutting Resumes At Spangler’s Spring, Scot Andrew Pitzer, Gettysburg Times, July 10, 2009
When soldiers fought at the base of Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg, there were no trees or shrubbery impeding the 1/4 of a mile between Spangler’s Spring and the Baltimore Pike. Today, that is no longer the case. The area is now covered with woodland and vegetation, disrupting the interpretive experience for battlefield visitors.
“You can’t identify the significance of this position with those trees,” said Gettysburg National Military Park historian John Heiser. That will chance soon, as the park continues its battlefield rehab program, sometime around July 15. Six acres of non-historic trees are scheduled to be cut in the Spangler’s Spring area of Culp’s Hill, restoring that land to its Civil War era appearance.
“I’ve been here almost 30 years now, and I’m always asked, is this how it looked in 1863?” said Heiser. “Hopefully, in a couple of months, we can say that about Spangler’s Spring. The goal is to open the vista back up to give visitors that historical view.” The project is part of a multi-year plan to transform the 6,000-acre Gettysburg Battlefield to its 1863 shape. Park records show that in 1863, there were 898 acres of battlefield woodland, compared to 1993, when 1,974 wooded acres covered the park.
“This is going to do wonders for the interpretive value of this area,” said Jim Johnson, GNMP Chief of Resource Planning. The park is now in its ninth year of the landscape rehab program, subsidized by federal funding. Overall, the program aims to remove 576 acres of trees, at a total cost of about $2.3 million. “We’re about halfway through our wood removal,” said Johnson. “We’re probably looking at another four more years.”
Culp’s Hill was a key strategic position during the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3 in 1863, hosting battle action on the second and third day of the clash. Confederate General George Steuart called the area “artillery hell,” because of its openness and lack of tree cover. Steuart’s brigade was pounded in that field, by Union cannon from nearby Powers Hill. “Now, you can’t understand why Steuart’s men called it artillery hell,” said Heiser. “Anyone who traversed across that field was an easy target. That area was completely open in 1863 — it’s just grown up over the years.”
When asked why the park waited 146 years to clear the Spangler’s Spring growth, Johnson replied: “Time, budget and money.” “It’s a major undertaking with expense,” Johnson added. Pennington Tree Company of Orrtanna was awarded a multi-year contract to perform the work in 2003, at a value of $569,675. Tree cutting is expected to begin in mid-July and continue through March 2010, depending on weather conditions. The park is also cutting trees in the area of East Cemetery Hill toward West Confederate Avenue, to open up that historic view-shed to tourists. “We have to do it when the ground is fairly dry or frozen, to minimize impact on the soil,” explained GNMP spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.
Additionally, park crews are prohibited from cutting trees during bird nesting season. Johnson said that birds are “mostly done nesting” now. The project includes planting new trees too, replacing the historic trees that are now missing. Johnson guessed that the planting would begin sometime in the fall, and conclude next spring. In the 146 years since the battle, hundreds of trees died near Spangler’s Spring from lead poisoning. “It’s another component of our General Management Plan, along with historic orchards,” Johnson said.
Witness trees, those present during the battle, are not cut, although Johnson doubts that any such trees are present in the six acres of land that separate Spangler’s Spring from the Baltimore Pike. The Baltimore Pike site, previously dubbed the Welcome Traveler Campground, was the Civil War era farm of James McAllister. The property was a privately owned camping area, until acquired by the Park Service in May 2009. Tree removal on that site is one stage of a three-phase project, including woodland to the south and west of nearby Spangler’s Spring, as well as trees on the eastern slope of Powers Hill.
Text and Image Source: Gettysburg Times, Caption: Jim Johnson, chief of resource planning