“We all live downstream.” You have probably heard this before and it is very true. The quality of the water we drink, the waters we swim in on a hot summer day and the waters we fish in is determined by our upstream neighbors. During the Civil War more soldiers died of diseases than as a direct result of battle action. Many of those diseases were water-borne such as dysentery, cholera and hepatitis. The waterways that flowed through the Gettysburg battlefield in 1863 still flow through it today. The soldiers drank from Rock Creek, Plum Run, Willoughby Run and other waterways and springs. Would you drink directly from these waters?
Today’s modern day threats to clean water are numerous. Gettysburg and surrounding Adams County are located within the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, a bay famous as a nursery for things that we humans love to eat such as crabs, oysters and tasty fish. The bay
has also become infamous for “dead zones” like the one a few years ago that caused a massive fish kill of over a quarter of a million fish. These dead zones are caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus. The most common source of this over nitrification is agricultural runoff from fertilizers and animal waste. The National Park Service is entrusted with the responsibility of being a good steward of the Gettysburg battlefield and along with that comes the responsibility of taking care of the waters that flow through it, waters that eventually drain downstream into the Chesapeake Bay.
In 2016 Gettysburg National Military Park partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Adams County Conservation District to protect the waters that flow through one of the park’s active pastures. The Patterson Pasture is home to 15 horses for seven months during the growing season. Visitors can see this pasture as they walk the paved trail along Taneytown road, close to where it turns to cross Taneytown Rd into Pleasonton Ave. A grant to the permit holder who leases this pasture from the park funded the installation of a fence and two stone crossings. The fence excludes the horses from a
forested corridor along a murmuring waterway that runs through the pasture. Excluding horses from this corridor eliminates soil erosion into the stream and deposition of animal waste into and close to the waterway. The two stone crossings give the horses access to both sides of the pasture and to drinking water. Less nitrogen input from animal waste and less erosion mean cleaner waters inside the park, cleaner waters for the park’s neighbors downstream and for the fish and wildlife who call the Chesapeake Bay home.
Dafna Reiner, Biologist, Gettysburg National Military Park, March 23, 2017