Gathland State Park in W. Md. to reopen to public

April 17, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

BURKITTSVILLE -- A small, state-owned museum atop South Mountain that houses Civil War artifacts and a prominent 19th century newspaperman's writings will reopen to the public this summer for the first time in three years.

Reopening the Park Museum at Gathland State Park -- closed since the state budget crunch three years ago -- is part of an effort by volunteers to restore services at the 140-acre park, said Dan Spedden, park manager of the South Mountain Recreation Area, which encompasses several parks in Washington and Frederick counties.

"The place is there, but we haven't had much to offer as far as services," Mr. Spedden said.

"We're pulling resources together to gradually reopen the park. We want to focus on the park as a cultural and historical site, instead of just a recreational area."

The park has "technically" been open the past three years, but with no personnel, no money for operations and no routine services, such as restrooms. The site is a popular stop for hikers along the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the park.

Gathland State Park was once the estate of George Alfred Townsend, a Civil War reporter and novelist whose pen name was Gath.

zTC The site contains the 50-foot War Correspondents' Arch, designed by Townsend and built in 1896. The arch is in Crampton's Gap, a breach in South Mountain where Civil War troops fought Sept. 14, 1862, just days before the bloody Battle of Antietam.

The Park Museum -- one of the few remaining stone structures of the estate -- contains some of Townsend's writings and papers.

To reopen the park, a task force of preservationists, hiking enthusiasts, natural resources employees and others have recruited state agencies and volunteers for various tasks, including restoring stone fences and walkways, publishing park brochures and staffing the museum.

Its work completed, the task force is disbanding but working to establish a park friends' group with a similar mix of people.

Besides recruiting volunteers, the task force is applying for $350,000 in state and federal grants to upgrade the Park Museum, purchase equipment and vehicles, and to hire an interim staff until the state Department of Natural Resources restores funding.

Rick Barton, superintendent of Maryland's state forests and parks, said state funding isn't likely to be restored soon.

To offset budget and staff restraints, state parks have relied increasingly on volunteers -- and park officials are looking at businesses for funds -- to staff facilities and programs and do maintenance work.

Gathland has been among several small state parks, including Cedarville State Forest in Prince George's County and wildlife management areas, that have been closed since the budget crunch.

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