By now you may have heard that last week the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rejected a proposal to build a casino on the site of a convention center on US Route 15 (Emmitsburg Road) south of the Gettysburg battlefield. It had been a controversial proposal. Yes, the land was already a commercial property, but the convention center did not intrude on the battlefield, and its presence did not create traffic difficulties. A casino’s impact would have been far more significant and visible. That said, I believe that had property been identified east of the US 15 bypass, the casino proposal would have stood a far greater chance of success, in part because it would have weakened the arguments of battlefield preservationists.
It just might be time for the people of Adams County to take another look at issues of economic development. The presence of the battlefield attracts visitors, but the configuration of the battlefield and several surrounding features (such at Gettysburg College) render it very difficult for the town to explore other means of economic development that would not have a significant impact on the battlefield one way or another. There’s also been a continuing conflict between the National Park Service, the Gettysburg Foundation, and local merchants and other interested parties about the impact of the new visitor’s center, with a discussion over raising admission fees the most recent debate. In many cases these disagreements turn nasty, and at times Gettysburg truly is a battlefield as well as a town divided.
Yet is also strikes me that friends of battlefield preservation and people who value Gettysburg for its historical importance and who enjoy visiting the town and the battlefield (people like me, for example) need to try to build some common ground with other participants in these ongoing controversies. After all, how would you like it if someone who visited your home town on occasion told you what you could and could not do? Isn’t it time to identify some areas where development could take place? Might we think more deliberately about how to harmonize preservation and development, which do not necessarily have to be at odds with each other? Might we think more carefully about what kind of development would be a good idea and benefit the area? It strikes me that at times some of us “outsiders” need to display a little more empathy and some more creativity in transcending these episodic explosions. Otherwise, we’re going to have to accept that every once on a while in these confrontations, we are going to lose, and it’s rare to regain that which has been lost, as the incident concerning the land swap at the railroad cut should remind us.
My first trip to Gettysburg was in 1967. I regret never quite making it to Fort Defiance; I have never brought myself to go the the Land of Little Horses; I’m grateful that the Eternal Peace Light Restaurant is no more; although I love the Dobbin House, I miss the diorama that was once there (it was really cool); I refused to go up the tower; I wish I’d paid more attention to the little museum north of Little Round Top; and there are other things I miss, even as I welcome other changes. Some things are different, even as other things remain the same. I just wish all concerned would understand that what should unite them is far more important than what divides them, and that cooperation would achieve much more than continued confrontation.