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Group ready to start on project

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER -- The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation held a board meeting Friday to outline its restoration project of the Third Battle of Winchester battlefield.

The project would establish an educational and environmental center, add accessible trails and signage for visitors and preserve what it looked like during the Sept. 19, 1864 battle by planting a vintage apple orchard.

A Boy Scouting facility also will be added to the preserve. Scouts already have contributed 300 service hours toward the project and six Eagle Scout service projects are planned in the future.

Foundation Executive Director Denman Zirkle said this is the first time a battlefield has been restored with the types of additional community resources the organization has planned. He added that the Cool Springs battlefield in Clarke County recently has started a restoration project similar to theirs.

"Most of the battlefield restorations, you got a battlefield, you go out, you cut your grass, you put up the trails and signs, bam you're done," said Zirkel. "But this one, we want the community to use it for non-battlefield as well as battlefield purposes."

The project has a total cost of $8.2 million and already has raised $5,981,556 as of Friday with the privately funded support of foundations, local donations and corporations.

Zirkle said he hopes to attract tourists, local residents and science and history teachers who can use the battlefield as an outdoor classroom.

The battlefield is one of 10 included in the foundation, but the Third Battle of Winchester has the distinction of being the largest, bloodiest and most decisive battle in the Shenandoah Valley. The 567-acre battlefield played host to combat between Lt. Gen. Jubal Early and Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan.

The Union eventually would win the battle, but not before suffering some major losses. According to park ranger Eric Campbell, the casualties amassed to 9,000 Union soldiers and nearly 4,000 Confederate soldiers.

Campbell said the battle marked the beginning of the end for Confederate resistance in the Shenandoah Valley.

The foundation hopes to complete the project by Sept. 2014 before the battle's 150th commemoration.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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