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Ball's Bluff Clearing Program Improves Interpretation

Deborah Fitts

- (November 2007) LEESBURG, Va. - Covered by woods for decades, a portion of a field that was the bloody vortex of battle at Ball's Bluff is beginning to re-emerge.

George Tabb, park manager for Ball's Bluff Battlefield Regional Park, said his goal is gradually to re-establish 14 acres of meadow. He explained that most of the fighting during the Oct. 21, 1861, battle took place on an "L-shaped field" that comprised from 14 to 20 acres.

Woods consumed the field a long time ago, and today the park is entirely wooded. Trees even obscure views of the adjacent Potomac River, unless visitors follow a path down the bluff to the sandy shore.

Part of the problem, Tabb acknowledged, is that residents of a large neighboring subdivision who use the park for recreation and dog-walking object to cutting trees. "We want to be sensitive to the community, and they're used to walking through the park tree-covered," he explained.

On the other hand, the park includes nearly 300 acres, and Tabb wants to clear, or partially clear, only 14 of them. The mission of the park is to interpret the battle. To that end, for the last few years Tabb has begun clearing the understory near the walled cemetery that holds the remains of Union soldiers killed in the battle. This year he scheduled two work days in January and March.

Tabb has limited funds and only one park ranger on his staff, so volunteer help is essential. With volunteers alone Tabb says the removal of mature trees is unlikely "for a long, long time." He is hopeful that grants or donations may eventually provide the wherewithal to remove the trees and truly restore the field.

Meanwhile the cleared understory has helped the park's volunteer tour guides to explain the battle, Tabb says. "Before, you couldn't see one point from another."

The walled cemetery, dating from 1865, stands at the eastern end of the field, which ran mostly east-west at the top of the bluff overlooking the Potomac.

Ball's Bluff battlefield is a unit of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. To reach the battlefield take U.S. 15 Bypass north of Leesburg about 2 miles to Battlefield Parkway and follow signs to the park.

About 15 active tour guides participate in the park's interpretive programs. On Saturdays and Sundays from April through October the guides offer tours from 10 a.m. to noon.

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