Antietam Revisited

January 03, 1991

National Park Service officials have recommended changes which, if adopted, could alter the purpose and character of Antietam National Battlefield. They want to restore the Western Maryland site near Sharpsburg to the way it was before the Civil War's bloodiest battle took place. But the Park Service must take care to adhere to the original reason for establishing the park.

Congress approved the project in 1890 to commemorate Antietam as a national site, to be kept in its authentic state to honor the 23,100 Union and Confederate soldiers who were killed and wounded there on Sept. 17, 1862. Some preservationists favor a plan that keeps park management and development as it is, with no expansion or changes. They worry about residential growth and commercialism linked to any park improvements undertaken to attract more tourists.

Others, though, agree with the Park Service that some expansion of the Antietam boundaries is necessary. The Park Service also wants to reduce the number of paved roads in the park and upgrade the visitors center.

Some 130,000 people come to this Civil War battlefield each year. Antietam's popularity as a tourist site is likely to grow as the Baltimore-Washington area megalopolis continues its inexorable push toward Washington County. That is why a new management plan by the Park Service is so important.

The integrity of Antietam has to be preserved. The Mellon Foundation recognized this need when it contributed $170 million for preservation of the Cornfield, site of the actual battle. But owners of farmland outside the perimeter of the park, and the government in whose trust Antietam is held, share an even greater responsibility for preservation of this Civil War battlefield.

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