Twenty questions for CWPT (2/4)

Jim Campi, spokesman for Civil War Preservation Trust was good enough to entertain twenty questions from this blogger and I will be sharing my questions and his answers this week without edits or comment. Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for facilitating this exchange.

DR: Why does CWPT run cash surpluses instead of spending all of its annual income?

JC: CWPT does not run cash surpluses. We do have $25 million in assets – but these assets are preserved historic land and easements, not cash. We currently own and manage 5,500 acres nationwide. Sometimes, because of the way nonprofit rating groups judge the effectiveness of an organization, they hold our “assets” against us – treating it as if we were running a surplus. However, we see it as just doing our job.

Also, please be wary of looking at a year-end balance sheet that shows, for example, $5 million in total revenue and $4 million in total expenses and assume that an organization is left with $1 million on December 31. As with any business, there are revenue peaks and valleys, and the same goes for expenses. As a general rule, we operate on a very close cash flow margin, sometimes almost too close for comfort. We also believe that most of our members want us to run CWPT as an efficient enterprise, almost like a business, even though we are nonprofit. Therefore, it is important to not incur unmanageable amounts of debt.

DR: What method establishes the annual top ten endangered sites list?

JC: The procedure for selecting the top ten list is relatively simple. In June, we begin the process of asking our members and local partners to nominate battlefield. Sometimes, this generates news coverage, so the net is even wider. In the Fall, the nominations are due. Once received, they are initially vetted by staff, and interviews are conducted with local partners to determine the extent of threats. Then, the board of trustees reviews this information and, in consultation with historians, makes the final decisions (this usually occurs in December and early January).

That being said, threat is not the sole criterion we use. We also consider military significance and geographic location. We also try to keep the list newsworthy, which means we do not have the same sites on the list every year (usually 2-3 are the same).

In the end, the primary purpose is to increase awareness of the plight of battlefields everywhere – under the theory that even battlefields not listed are helped in that we can create more enthusiasm for preservation nationwide. Put another way: a rising tide raises all boats.

DR: How does CWPT define "saved battlefield"?

JC: From our perspective, there are very few battlefields that are “saved” in their entirety. Antietam, Shiloh and Malvern Hill are among the best, but even at these sites key parcels remain vulnerable to development.

Also please note that, in our communications, we never claim to have “saved” an entire battlefield. Instead, we refer to a specific parcel or parcels as being saved, or that we are engaged in an extended campaign to save an entire battlefield.

DR: What is an "endangered battlefield?"

JC: That’s an excellent question – and I think the answer has evolved over time. Most preservationists agree that any Civil War site where core battlefield land is threatened by development qualifies as endangered. CWPT defines core battlefield according to maps developed by the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP). Additionally, we verify ABPP information with independent historians.

However, CWPT is also concerned about the potential impact development outside the core battlefield can have on a battlefield as a whole. Not only can it destroy a battlefield’s viewshed (imagine looking out from the Bloody Lane at Antietam onto acres of McMansions), it can also put enormous pressure on local authorities to widen roads through battlefields. This increases traffic to the point that situations similar to Manassas and Kennesaw Mountain arise – where visitors cannot travel into certain parts of these parks after 2 or 3 p.m.

Further, these parks are rapidly become islands of green in a sea of sprawl – making them practically the only open space available for local residents. When that happens, the battlefields become less a hallowed memorial and more a recreational park.

Finally, we rely upon the 1993 Congressional Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields to help guide us. They ranked the 383 primary determinative battles of the war based on threat level, preservation progress (at that time) and military significance. ABPP is currently in the process of updating that report, so it will be interesting to see how some sites have either moved down the list in priority (because we have saved land) or how some have radically moved up the list (due to threats that we not there 13 years ago).

DR: Would CWPT ever reject a coalition partner (among non-ACW groups) in saving battlefield land?

JC: I am not aware of CWPT ever having rejected a coalition partner. However, that being said, we don’t ask organizations with incompatible agendas to join us in preservation alliances. Groups we invite to join in coalitions are usually national, state, or local conservation groups, with a similar interest in land or historic preservation.

That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider partnerships with non-conservation groups. For instance, in 2000 we partnered with a local homeowners association to save the Davis Tract at Manassas (near Sudley Church). We are also part of the Morris Island Coalition, which includes a surfing advocacy group.