Mission Accomplished: A Follow-Up to “Battlefield Travesty”

Trash Park approach“Are you going out to pick up garbage?” my wife asked from the comfort of our bed as I finished tying my shoes.

“Yes,” I said, trying to stay quiet enough that she could fall back to sleep.

“Don’t pick up any condoms,” she warned.

No, of course not, I thought. Who knows what else I would pick up if I did.

I had already packed gloves and garbage bags in the car the night before. I poured myself a cup of coffee and slipped out the door. I was off to the Home Depot parking lot and, beside it, the path that led up to the earthworks along Zoan Church ridge. 

Earlier in the week, during a Facebook LIVE event Emerging Civil War had participated in with the Civil War Trust, we’d visited the works only to discover them heaped with litter. We managed to film our segment (parts one and two), but we couldn’t show much because of all the garbage strewn about the site. I called it a “battlefield travesty” in a blog post on Friday.

But as I’d said in that post, my indignation wasn’t enough—so I was now on my way to do my part.

Fortunately, others had reacted to my post, too. A local preservation group reached out to say it had been working on trying to better protect and preserve the area. A local teacher reached out to say he’d been in contact with teachers at the nearby school, whose students seemed largely responsible for the litter, to say that there was interest in maybe adopting the site as a student project. I was so pleased at the response. It means there might be a longer-term solution.

In the meantime, trash bags in hand—gloved hand—I made my way up the path and started picking up litter.

I found plastic water bottles and soda bottles and discarded fast food containers from Wendy’s, Salsaritas, and Taco Bell—all franchises in the nearby strip mall. I found a pair of Little Ceasar’s pizza boxes, several Starbucks cups, and all sorts of random packaging for snacks: crackers, Slim Jims, cheese sticks, and more. I found a lot of straws. Smashed plasticware. A pair of men’s boxer shorts. An empty tampon applicator. Someone’s class ring on a chain. No condoms, thankfully.

Trash Park 5There were far fewer beer cans than I expected—one can and one bottle, to be exact—but there were smashed bottles everywhere. Too much glass for me to pick up, actually. Too many cigarette butts, too. Someone had a particular taste for Marlboro Smooth 100s.

The Marlboro smoker, or maybe someone else, had gotten bored one day and had burned round cigarette holes into the screw-tip caps from a half dozen water bottles. Each cap, about the circumference of a nickel, had an even, black hole burned right through it at the center.

A snake-rail fence runs along the uppermost stretch of the paved path. The last couple of segments had been kicked over so that walkers could take a shortcut down the bank. I re-stacked the fence posts, realizing even as I did so that they’d probably be kicked back over before long. Maybe they wouldn’t be. Maybe the students would surprise me.

Trash Park fence-before

Trash Park fence-after

After all, the teen I’d seen the day before walking up the trail with a Styrofoam cup from Sonic had not tossed the cup aside when he finished his drink—to his credit. I found no Sonic cup anywhere along the ridge, in fact.

One hour and two garbage bags later, I finished. There was nothing I could do about the spray-painted wayside sign, nor was there anything I could do about the discarded trash strewn about near the parking area at the bottom of the hill where’d I’d left my car. I’d only brought two bags, so I was out of room.

Trash Park 03

Trash Park 03-after

My thanks to all our readers who shared my disappointment, who offered words of support, who reached out to local contacts to see if there was anything anyone could do. My thanks to all our readers who take the time to pick up trash they see during their own battlefield adventures. I know how seriously so many of your take your role as battlefield stewards.

Often, when we talk about battlefield preservation, we think about financial contributions for big land purchases. Sometimes, though, the fight for preservation means getting into the trenches themselves, literally, where the fight is dirty.

13 Responses to Mission Accomplished: A Follow-Up to “Battlefield Travesty”

  1. Thank you for your extra efforts Chris! Hopefully your efforts to raise awareness of the problems at this site will result in positive actions by the folks who frequent the site.

    1. Thanks, Mark. As you know from your work with Friends of Wilderness battlefield, there’s always something to do, some project that needs attended to, some garbage that needs picked up, some lawn that needs mowed! We’re lucky to have such dedicated volunteers (like you!) to help in that ongoing work.

  2. Thanks Chris for going the extra mile and what you and others did and are doing. Thanks for posting this and letting us know what is going on. I have been to this site a few times and it pains me to see what some folks will do to a historic site.

  3. Thanks for doing that great work! I’m sorry I couldn’t see the streams since I’m not on face book

    1. You’re welcome. FYI, you can follow the links and still watch the videos without being a Facebook member, if you want to watch them.

  4. I’ve been thinking about your earlier post. I know, dangerous words.

    Speaking for the moment as an attorney with fifty years of land use experience, and not a Civil War buff, do we know who owns the property? That person/entity has the common law maintenance responsibility. If it is Home Depot or the developer, we should call them out. They can send someone a couple/three times a year (or even monthly) to pick up trash. Lots of businesses do it in other places. Give them a public pat on the back if they step up. Let the community villify them if they don’t.

    They also could consider putting in a fence to block the school access, unless that harms the aesthetics or the historic character of the site. Someone is allowing an attractive nuisance. That carries the potential of liability, especially if a child gets hurt on the property.

    Is there a shared ownership, i.e., the developer/Home Depot owns the ground, someone else has an easement for public access. If so, probably the attorney who prepared the easement made a provision for maintenance. Any competent attorney would have done that since maintenance of a public/quasi-public site is always an issue. We should check that. If that isn’t something you can easily do, I will be in Virginia in a couple of weeks and I can look up the title.

    Who was responsible for creating the signage? We should reach out to them for possible replacement. Having graffitied signage encourages vandalism (knocking down the fence) or at minimum indifference (garbage on the ground). Removing the evidence of vandalism (I know we didn’t do it) removes at least some of the inclination for indifference.

    If the kids are the problem, maybe the kids can be the solution. Can you or someone more local arrange to make a presentation (with pictures) to the school newsletter, a local media source, the community internet? High school students get academic credit for community service. What about befriending a local historic site? They wouldn’t even have to drive.

    Just some thoughts based on what I’ve seen work other places. You have better things to do than collect garbage, though I honor you for the effort.

    1. With all due respect, I think the best way to handle this is how it is being handled, and that by concerned folks who have an interest in the subject of the Civil War. I can think of nothing that might throw a wrench in the works more than getting the lawyers involved.

      I like what you say here: “If the kids are the problem, maybe the kids can be the solution. Can you or someone more local arrange to make a presentation (with pictures) to the school newsletter, a local media source, the community internet? High school students get academic credit for community service. What about befriending a local historic site? They wouldn’t even have to drive.”

      I think that is the logical approach. But all involved will probably have to be patient in that, as it is likely that results will take some time to show.

  5. Dr. Mackowski as dissapointed as I was to read of the condition of the “sacred land” people, specificly you and the people you motivated gave me great hope. Thank-you for cleaning such important national treasures. If a major clean-up is organized I would love to participate, and you have my word my marlboro’s packs & butts will go in my pocket where they belong. God-Bless you for all your work sir

  6. Chris, you have redefined the term litter-bearer. Instead of carrying the wounded off the battlefield, we now carry garbage. Times have changed, thanks for caring.

  7. Chris, excellent work. Thank you for your part in hopefully finding a correction to this sad situation. Not to be discouraging, but to illustrate the seriousness of the problem, I had taken the Civil War Fortification Study Group up there as the first stop of their touring Chancellorsville, back on February 24th this year. There they witnessed, with equal horror, the same conditions. Spontaneously the group took it upon themselves to immediately pitch in and gather the bulk of the trash that was there that day. This then is testimony as to what had since gathered, in a little over two months! Clearly the problem won’t go away if not addressed in some firm-handed fashion.

    I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge Eric Mink, of the National Park Service, who had done the original history research utilized in the Silver’s proffer package presentation to Spotsylvania County. Eric also provided the text for the signage that is on site, including the vandalized one on top of the hill. I know it is a project he is very proud of, and rightly so.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, John. You do plenty of looking after the battlefields around here yourself, so you know what an ongoing effort it can be. Thanks for all you do in your stewardship.

      And yes, Eric Mink is a rock star!

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