Group says Civil War sites can bring in money to area
By REGAN LOYOLA CONNOLLY
Each year, thousands of people visit Fort Defiance at the convergence of the Cumberland and Red rivers in Clarksville.
But very few of those tourists know that about 10 miles from the former Confederate lookout is another Civil War site — a camp used to train more than 2,000 Kentucky soldiers who went on to fight for the southern forces.
Camp Boone, thought to have been established on the banks of Spring Creek in 1861 just three miles south of the Kentucky state line, is overgrown by trees and will soon become home to a manufacturing site.
But members of the Clarksville Civil War Roundtable and the Arts and Heritage Development Council believe Camp Boone is worth preserving not only because of its historical value, but for the dollars it could bring to the local economy.
Civil War tourism is nothing new to Montgomery County, but Greg Biggs, president of the local Civil War Roundtable, said with just a small investment on the front end, local leaders could secure millions of additional tourism dollars each year from Fort Defiance, Camp Boone and other smaller Civil War training sites.
"It’s not like we have to start from scratch," he said. "There are tons of people who come through on Interstate 24 going to other places in Tennessee, so why not give them a reason to get off the interstate and have them spend their money here."
It sounds easy, but progress can’t be made without the help of local leaders, said Shirley Kenney-Thomasi, director of the Arts and Heritage Council.
The Clarksville City Council voted in late June to cut $265,000 from the city budget — money that would have allowed for renovations at Fort Defiance and the construction of a walking path around the fort. The money will be used instead to repair streets.
In July, the Montgomery County Commission voted to rezone to industrial use part of the land thought to be the former home of Camp Boone. The group agreed to wait 90 days before considering the rezoning of a second track of the land near Camp Boone.
According to the National Civil War Preservation Trust, nearly 20 percent of America’s Civil War battlefields have already been destroyed by development and of those that remain, only 15 percent are protected by the federal government.
"If the county and the city don’t support history, why should the rest of the state or anyone else," Kenney-Thomasi said. "This sends a message that these historical sites are not important."
Money to be made
The interest in historical sites is growing across the country, said Dianne Murray, marketing coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.
"As the baby boomers get older and become the majority of the population, there are more people who want to go back and relate to the past and their ancestors and learn about history," she said. "There is more interest every day in the Civil War and trying to preserve the past."
Biggs said the Civil War has an undeniable impact on most of the country’s population that keeps drawing people to museums and former battlefields across the United States.
"It touched this country in ways that nothing else has," he said. "It is in the fiber of us."
Five million people visit Civil War sites in Tennessee each year, according to Fred Prouty, director of programs for the Tennessee Wars Commission, part of the Tennessee Historical Commission.
"Each year I print 150,000 copies of our state’s Civil War heritage map and put them in the state’s 11 visitor centers, and yet they are one of the top two most requested brochures," he said. "They run out each year."
According to the most recent Profile of U.S. Travelers report, the No. 2 attraction to the Nashville area is historic sites and museums, Murray said. Only shopping beats out history.
For the state, historical sites and museums also ranks second.
"Securing these types of places can have an economic impact, and it also provides a means for future generations to be able to learn from and enjoy," she said.
Biggs said developing and showcasing historical sites can be more profitable for local governments than other tourism-related ventures.
According to a 2003 study of historical tourism done by the National Civil War Preservation, historical and heritage travelers stay at their destinations longer and they spend more money while they visit.
Visitors to Civil War sites spend, on average, $51.58 per person, per day. They sleep in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and shop in local stores. That, Biggs said, translates into cash for the local government.
"I recently took the Indianapolis Civil War Roundtable to Atlanta and on the way back, we stopped in Clarksville and went to Fort Defiance," he said. "That was 40 people who stayed in a hotel, ate in four restaurants and did some shopping. They had a great time and spent their money here."
Prouty agreed that history buffs spend money while they travel.
"Usually they buy books and other materials at the sites," he said. "It’s quite a sizable amount of money and with that sort of payback, people are willing to keep investing in the history."
County Mayor Doug Weiland said historical tourism is an important part of the local economy. Expanding the county’s historical offerings may be a step in the right direction, he said.
"I think it is something we should at least explore, assuming it has the potential to bring tourist dollars " he said. "On the surface I would say yes we should expand our historical tourism, but we need to do our research and see what could come of it."
Fort Donelson expansion
Town of Dover leaders aren’t wasting any time capitalizing on Fort Donelson — the national battlefield where Confederate Gen. Simon B. Buckner surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.
Dover City Administrator Jimmy Scurlock said plans are in the works to develop Dover’s riverfront along the Cumberland River to connect a series of walking trails to Fort Donelson
"This will enable us to build sidewalks and trails from the Surrender House out to the fort," he said. "Things are preliminary at this point, but we certainly hope this will enhance our tourism."
The project will cost about $1.5 million and Scurlock said he hopes 80 percent of it will be paid for through grant money.
"We have about 700,000 visitors to Fort Donelson each year, and this will provide a good place for our citizens to walk and hike," he said.
Scurlock said it will take close to three years to complete the project, but the payoff will be evident long after construction is competed.
Camp Boone park
Civil War buffs who are interested in preserving the Camp Boone site are having regular discussions with developer, Wendell Ethridge, who has bought the land in north Montgomery County. They are optimistic that a portion of the site may be set aside for a park or interpretive center.
"Negotiations are ongoing about possibly saving a portion of the 100 acres of what was Camp Boone," said Cleo Hogan, a member of the Clarksville Civil War Roundtable and a supporter of local historical preservation. "We are talking regularly with the developer about how something might be preserved there, and this developer has been quite amenable to discussions."
Kenney-Thomasi said there are endless options for any land that may be preserved.
"We could have an interpretive center, a park where people could go and have picnics and walking trails," she said.
Biggs said there are plenty of local resources available to help develop the site. Building log structures to resemble the hospital that once stood there and clearing some land for mock battlefields that reenactors could use are just a few examples.
"We don’t have to build billions of dollars in new roads, lay sewage or put in power lines," he said. "This is something you can do with a minor expense. If you invest one time you can get years and years of benefit on the return side."
The group has already raised $2,000 of the $10,000 needed to do an archeological study of the land.
"We’re going to do the survey," Kenney-Thomasi said. "This whole group is adamant that we save this land."
The group has plans to meet Monday to complete the paperwork necessary to secure not-for-profit status and develop objectives and goals.
Biggs said it’s important to keep in mind that all these changes are not planned for the immediate future.
"This is a long-term project. We don’t have to have it all up the next day, and it’s not going to cost a lot of money," he said.
However, the long term pay off, Biggs said, could be huge.
"We have a gold mine here," she said. "This is the cheapest return on an investment we can go for."
Copyright ©2004 The Leaf-Chronicle.