Today I sent a letter to the Editor at The Free Lance-Star newspaper defending the National Park Service’s recent decision to add a top layer of pea-gravel to Lee’s Drive. This was mainly done to help curb speeding and it also improved the historical appearance of the park. Many local cyclists, joggers and stroller moms have voiced their displeasure with the new road surface. I believe their opinions are somewhat misguided as they tend to look at these Civil War Battlefields as recreational parks and forget what their real purpose is. These are not bike trails or nature preserves and although both the NPS and I support the idea of locals enjoying the battlefield, their opinions should not dictate how the park is preserved or maintained. They are 'guests' who are simply taking advantage of a convenient exercise location on a road less traveled. Stay tuned...
UPDATE 6/11: My letter (see transcript below) ran in today's issue of The Free Lance Star. I am already getting emails from both sides of the argument.
Let us not forget what Lee Drive is all about
Recently, some in our community have taken the National Park Service to task for its decision to resurface Lee Drive using gravel.
The goal, as Park Superintendent Russ Smith describes it, is to calm traffic through the Fredericksburg Battlefield.
Given that Lee Drive currently holds claim to roughly half of all the speeding tickets the Park Service hands out, this seems an ideal solution indeed.
Many of those opposed to the new gravel surface use the road chiefly to jog, bike, and the like.
As a local battlefield guide specializing in wheelchair tours, I feel that it is important for us to remember that Lee Drive is the main thoroughfare of a Civil War Battlefield, not simply another recreational park or nature preserve.
The primary purpose of Lee Drive is not to provide local residents with a place to exercise, nor to serve as a convenient shortcut during rush-hour traffic.
Its purpose, like that of the rest of the battlefield's roads, is to allow visitors access to the multiple historic sites that dot the landscape of this hallowed ground where thousands of men died.
While it is great that residents utilize Lee Drive for recreational purposes, such purposes should not dictate how the road is maintained. The recent resurfacing not only serves as an improved safety factor, but also enhances the aesthetic appearance of the park. This benefits everyone.
Fredericksburg is no ordinary place, and our battlefield is no ordinary park. I commend the Park Service and Superintendent Smith for their skillful stewardship of this one-of-a-kind natural and historic treasure and am grateful for the newly revamped road that runs through it.
I also ask those who question the resurfacing to keep in mind why Lee Drive is there at all.
The writer is owner, All-Access Battlefield Tours.