Published on June 17, 2015

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Posted: May 20, 2015

The Winchester Star

Keven Walker, CEO of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, uses an aerial photo to describe the cutting and planting of trees on a portion of the Third Battle of Winchester site. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — For some, the Third Winchester Battlefield is a holy ground for Civil War enthusiasts who want to preserve the land for its historical significance.

For others, it’s simply a place to exercise and take a leisurely walk on its nearly five miles of trails.

On Tuesday night at Piccadilly’s Public House in Winchester, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation — which owns the battlefield, located north of Berryville Pike (Va. 7) and east of Interstate 81— held a meeting to discuss current and future projects at the site.

Nearly 20 people attended the meeting, half of which were battlefields foundation staff.

Since 2009, the nonprofit organization has invested millions of dollars into the preservation, interpretation and restoration of the site, which is in its second phase. Third Winchester was one of the largest battles fought in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, resulting in a Confederate retreat by Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early in fall 1864.

Keven Walker, the battlefields foundation’s CEO, also addressed questions from some area residents who said they use the site’s walking trails for recreation.

Avid walkers and hikers raised concerns after nearly five acres of trees at the battlefield were removed over the past six months.

Winchester resident Taliah Weber asked Walker during the meeting about those trees.

Walker said many of them were infected with emerald ash borer, an invasive species of beetle, and several trees that looked healthy would’ve been cut down within the next five years. By removing the trees now, he said, the foundation could make a profit from selling and reusing some of the wood.

Weber said after the meeting that she runs at the battlefield.

“I had noticed the tree removal,” she said. “It was good to hear about the ash borer [at the meeting] …and to hear it was more of a protective measure was comforting to me.”

What prompted the meeting “wasn’t about the trees,” Walker said after the meeting, but about the battlefields foundation’s upcoming projects.

By Sept. 19 — which marks the anniversary of the battle — a visitors center will open on the foundation’s newly acquired five acres of land across from the site’s parking lot on Red Bud Road, according to Walker.

The visitors center will have a meeting space, display area, information desk, gift shop and restrooms.

In addition, the foundation is also planning to install new interpretative signs around the property. Two seasonal National Park Service rangers, which will be grant-funded positions, will give tours starting this summer.

Also included in the second phase of the restoration project is building a bridge over Red Bud Run and expanding the trail system.

In three years, the battlefield should attract more than 250,000 tourists annually, according to Walker.

Kathleen Diamond, who lives in Frederick County, said after the meeting that she and her partner, Bob Beckwith, walk the battlefield every Sunday.

“It’s been meaningful for us,” she said.

She said she hopes that with the anticipated higher tourist population that the battlefield “doesn’t get too commercial.”

The New Market-based battlefields foundation is projected to have spent more than $33 million by the end of this year to preserve battlefield land, 45 percent of which is in Frederick County, according to Walker.

More than 600 acres of Frederick County land will be preserved by the end of this year.

“We have made a considerable investment [in Frederick County], and we’re so very glad to do it,” Walker said.

— Contact Raya Zimmerman at rzimmerman@winchesterstar.com