Last weekend was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. Being a lover of history, the Titanic disaster has always interested me since I was a young boy. On April 4th, I happened to catch an interview on The Colbert Report with Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. First I will always be mad at Ballard since I told myself when I was younger that I would be the one to find the wreck. More importantly
though, Ballard discussed the collecting of artifacts from the wreck and how repeated visits to the wreck have caused unnecessary damage to the ship. Ballard likened visiting the wreck to visiting the battlefield at Gettysburg saying, “Look, visit the Titanic. But you don’t go to Gettysburg with a shovel. You don’t take belt buckles off the Arizona. So, visit, but don’t touch.” His comments got me thinking about the similarities of the two sites and how each one needs to be treated with respect by visitors.
Gettysburg National Military Park receives over a million visitors a year from all over the world. Just like the presence of over 150,000 soldiers from both North and South in July of 1863, the large number of visitors is sometimes a little tough on the battlefield. The park maintenance staff do an excellent job of keeping the grounds, monuments, cannons and roads in great condition. Our National Park staff also rely heavily on respectful conduct from the public while visiting the battlefield to help protect park resources. Knowing some of the basic rules and regulations not only shows respect to those that fought and died here, but also helps maintain the condition of the battlefield.
Here are a few quick tips to help visitors better protect park resources and help visitors get safely around the battlefield.
Monuments and Cannons:
The general rule for monuments and cannons is to remain off of them. Staying off the monuments limits wear and tear and lessens chances for inadvertently damaging them. Less wear and tear means lower maintenance costs to the park. Certain monuments on the battlefield are designed to be climbed on by those visiting the battlefield. The Pennsylvania State Memorial, Eternal Light Peace Memorial and the 44th New York Volunteers monument are examples of monuments that have steps or viewing platforms from which to view the battlefield.
Park visitors should not climb on the cannons. The cannon tubes on the battlefield, for the most part, date back to the time of the Civil War. The cannon rest on carriages that are made of cast iron and are now also over one hundred years old. While children are frequently attracted to climbing on cannons, adults also do their fair share. For safety reasons, we ask visitors to stay off the cannon. Once again, less wear and tear on the cannons helps maintain them longer.
Parking On Park Roads:
A busy day on the battlefield can sometimes lead to parking challenges. We ask visitors to be mindful of some parking rules along park avenues. On one way roads in the park, visitors may park on the right side of the road. The key to parking on the one ways is to keep all four tires on the pavement. The park avenues are wide enough to let traffic pass safely. On two way roads, we ask visitors not to park on the road or pull off onto the shoulder unless there is a paved or gravel pull out already established. Parking on the pavement or in established pull outs protects the road shoulders from damage and helps lessen erosion along the shoulders.
Driving on Park Roads:
Visitors should take care while driving along park avenues. It is best to be aware and keep alert. Pay extra attention because many of your fellow drivers may be distracted and looking around the battlefield. The speed limit on all park avenues is 25 miles per hour. With a variety of one and two way roads, watch for a Do Not Enter or a One Way sign to tell you how traffic is flowing. The map in the park brochure also indicates traffic
direction along park avenues. Drivers are asked to watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians that will also be on park avenues. Safely negotiating the battlefield means driving slow and being alert.
Part of Gettysburg National Military Park’s mission is to protect the resources associated with the Battle of Gettysburg and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Relic hunting is strictly forbidden on park
property. The National Military Park is a place for remembrance and reflection. All park resources are protected and we ask anyone seeing any relic hunting in the park to contact park law enforcement staff through the Adams County Dispatch Center at 717-334-8101.
As Ballard said in another interview for Ask Men Magazine in 2003, when visiting places like the Titanic or Gettysburg, “It’s all about respect.” He is right about that. Visitors are respectful of the Gettysburg battlefield when they tread lightly on the land, do not unnecessarily damage park resources and follow the park rules. That way the battlefield we all know and appreciate will be around a lot longer.
By Ryan Levins, Supervisory Park Ranger, Law Enforcement.