As reported here last week, CWPT claimed to have rescued 45 acres of East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg in 2003. (They did so in all seriousness and with no caveats.) This week additional details of the deal became available through this news account.
According to the story, there were five groups involved, not counting the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service: the Land Conservancy of Adams County, the Conservation Fund, Adams County Agricultural Land Preservation Board and Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, and CWPT. Together, they bought an "easement" on 45 acres for $93,950 after the feds kicked in $56,200 of that. If they were splitting the check evenly among themselves, these five big spenders would have paid just over $7,550 apiece for the non-federal part of the bill.
Forgive me a little guesstimating, but there are 45-acre farms for sale around Gettysburg for about $300,000 fee simple. I was shopping for one last year. A serious preservationist could have offered a decent price and gained control of the place, if it truly meant anything.
Meanwhile, this property owner has been paid a windfall to stay put. Meanwhile, these conservation groups have been given a role in keeping battlefield land (if that is what it is) operating as a farm – one where trespassing is prohibited. Meanwhile, Civil War Preservation Trust can claim victory without having spent more than pin money.
The whole operation is nicely summarized in a paragraph from the linked piece:
The groups' ultimate goal is to secure additional farmland conservation easements at other cavalry battlefields related to the Gettysburg Campaign and then to connect those sites to form a cavalry battlefields driving tour.
A CWPT driving tour. The perfect way to experience your virtual battlefield! The sites are "connected" by roads and to see over the corn, just pull your car onto the shoulder and stand on the hood. (Visitors to Antietam know whereof I speak.)
If the good people supporting Gettysburg reclamation want a taste of what the CWPT holds in store for them, they need to visit Fox's and Turner's gaps in Maryland. As CWPT itself notes, 6,000 acres of land has been "saved" by using federal funds to buy easements on South Mountain. You have battlefields with no public facilities, no public access (except those wonderful roads), and not one spot you can lawfully park your picnic blanket. You have a tremendously happy group of homeowners who bought on South Mountain to get away from it all – bought cheap – and whose property values have risen because of easements and whose continued privacy is ensured "in perpetuity." They have every disincentive to sell – but who's buying, anyway, except for other people who want to get away from it all.
And CWPT is fine with this - it spells success to them. What bothers CWPT about the Gaps is that there may be housing developments started well to the east of its easements complex. See the South Mountain page of their recent report. Unreal.
And speaking of unreal, if CWPT's land budget is $7,550 per deal, the virtual battlefield is truly the battlefield of the future.
Are you contributing money for driving tours of virtual battlefields? Is that your own idea of saving historic property? If not, look very carefully and any battlefield preservation society before you donate.