- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

Thousands of visitors from around the country are expected to scour the grounds of Civil War sites such as Central Virginia’s Wilderness Battlefield and Maryland’s Antietam National Battlefield today.

But they won’t be hunting for Easter eggs.

Instead, they will help restore the endangered battle sites in the 11th annual Park Day.

The nonprofit Civil War Preservation Trust, in partnership with the History Channel, is sponsoring the effort at more than 80 sites around the region.

During last year’s event, about 4,000 volunteers completed more than 12,000 hours of service in helping to preserve Civil War sites.

The annual cleaning helps prepare the sites quickly for their busiest season — summer.

Even though today’s event falls on an unseasonably chilly Easter weekend, organizers expressed optimism about volunteer turnout.

At Wilderness Battlefield in Spotsylvania County, Park Day organizer Craig Rains said he expects to see almost twice the number of volunteers who collected litter and painted the Exhibit Shelter and canons last year.

“About 40 people came out last year. We’re planning on trying to double that number,” Mr. Rains said. “I ordered 75 T-shirts, and if we have more, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll make them myself, I guess.”

Cub Scouts plan to clear litter from the site’s picnic area and along a main road, he said.

“Litter is a serious problem in the battlefield with all the trash from the highways that blows around in the country,” Mr. Rains said.

Gens. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first faced each other in the Civil War at the Wilderness battlefield. The fighting sparked a devastating grass fire that hobbled the rescue of wounded soldiers, many of whom are still buried at the site.

National Park Ranger Debbie Cohen, a Park Day organizer at Antietam, said the value of the event lies in the opportunity it provides volunteers in seeing why the site is special and protected.

Volunteers today will plant trees, clean markers and collect trash around the battlefield and nearby roads, she said.

“There’s a lasting impact by volunteers in helping us to try and recreate the original atmosphere of Antietam,” said Ranger Cohen, a natural resources specialist.

The battle at Antietam, known as the bloodiest 12 hours in American history, ended in a draw.

Volunteers at participating sites — such as the District’s Fort Stevens — will receive free T-shirts and tours conducted by local historians.

In July 1864, Abraham Lincoln visited Fort Stevens as Union troops repelled a Confederate advance — the only battle in which an active U.S. president has come under enemy fire.

Anyone interested in volunteering should visit www.civilwar.org, the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Web site, for more information on participating sites in their area.

“If it wasn’t for Park Day volunteers and the Civil War Preservation Trust, our kids would never see the history of sites like these,” Mr. Rains said.

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