Foundation to open battlefield park, visitor center

Landscape supervisor Matt Stine, left, and carpenter J.R. Shull, right, construct this fence row outside the parking lot of the Third Winchester Battlefield Visitor Center in Winchester on Wednesday. They are employees of Winchester firm Advantage Property Management Inc, which donated its employees for the project. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – After more than eight years of work, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation will cut the ribbon on a new park and visitor’s center for the Third Winchester Battlefield on Saturday.

The foundation will hold a ceremony at 9 a.m. for the park – which features newly developed trails, historical markers and Civil War-era canons and fencing – as well as a new visitors’ center.

In addition, the foundation will be hosting area representatives and state officials that include Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville, and Mike Caldwell, Northwest Regional Director of the National Park Service.

The ceremony will be a part of a day’s worth of events marking the 151st commemoration of the Third Battle of Winchester, which was one of the largest and bloodiest battles fought in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War.

Foundation Executive Director Keven Walker said the eight-year project was an $8 million investment for the foundation – with funding largely coming in the form of federal grants.

Taby Whitacre, development coordinator of research and advancement for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, scrapes the paint off the floor inside a downstairs room of the new Visitors Center at the Third Winchester Battlefield. The visitor center opens Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily

The entire battlefield was around 25 square miles – or 16,000 acres – in size. Walker said that the foundation has preserved 582 acres of the battlefield – or just over 3.6 percent of its original size.

“What we’ve been able to preserve are key spots,” he said. “We have preserved almost the entire Confederate battle line from the mid-day’s action.”

Walker added, “It’s enough of the battlefield that it gives you a true sense of what happened here and the scale of what happened here and the importance of what happened here.”

The location of the foundation’s recently completed park, Walker said, “Was where the armies were slugging it out for hours and hours.”

Last winter, the project hit a potential snag when an infestation of emerald ash borer was detected within the battlefield. As a response, the foundation brought in a contractor to remove the infected trees.

Carpenter J.R. Shull, left, and landscape supervisor Matt Stine, right, work on a fence outside the Third Winchester Battlefield Visitor Center. Rich Cooley/Daily

Dan Reinhart, resource management specialist with the foundation, said, “It’s clear. The trees are all down, and it’s just a matter now of removing some of the firewood and some of the trees that are down.”

The foundation will also be unveiling a new, mostly completed visitors’ center that will contain more interpretive information about the battle.

Janice Hannah, the foundation’s development director, said they purchased the 5 acres for the visitors’ center earlier this year, and completed the first phase of its construction last week.

Hannah said they hope to finish infrastructure and landscaping work around the building by Saturday.

In total, Walker said that preserving the land and constructing the visitors’ center building have cost the foundation around $300,000.

The foundation is looking to complete phase two of that building’s construction – which will entail second-floor rooms and amenities – after Saturday’s ceremony.

Looking ahead, Walker said the foundation has a goal to surpass the 600-acre mark by the end of 2015.

“We hope, for the end of the year, to close on a parcel of land that is called the West Woods – and it’s 34 acres of land,” Walker said, adding that the parcel is located behind The Gateway Shopping near mile marker 315 of Interstate 81.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com