Thursday, June 21, 2012

Roanoke Native Fights To Preserve Civil War Battlefields

Roanoke native Denman Zirkle at a Civil War battlefield site.
Civil War history has long captivated Virginia Tech/Pamplin College of Business alumnus Denman Zirkle, who graduated in 1960. After more than 25 years in the financial services industry, Zirkle found a second career in helping to protect, manage, and interpret long-ago fighting grounds. He is the executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. The challenges of historic preservation, he discovered, mean a constant battle for funds and against development.

The Roanoke, Va.-born Zirkle said he has always been fascinated by the Civil War—its causes, the military brilliance of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and “how the defeat of the Confederacy has continued to define our nation, both politically and socially, through almost 150 years.” His interest in historic preservation, however, “came later in life, as I became increasingly aware of our dwindling natural and historic resources and the relentless commercial pressure to compromise them.”

Some 14,000 acres of core Civil War battlefields have no protection against development, says Denman Zirkle, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Zirkle, who also earned an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, began his career in finance in 1983, when he joined Morgan Stanley from Consolidated Rail Corp. He later moved to Lynch & Mayer, a New York investment advisory firm, where he was senior vice president in charge of marketing, and Franklin Templeton Investments, where he was executive vice president for the institutional business division. More recently, he was chief executive officer of another New York advisory firm, Carret and Co.

Appointed in April 2009 to lead the battlefields foundation, Zirkle said the organization’s work must be “ramped up, both in terms of management and interpretation of the acreage that has been protected, as well as the acquisition of remaining battlefield land.”

The foundation was incorporated in 2000 to “protect, interpret, and promote” battlefields in the newly designated Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, created by Congress in 1996. At that time, some 2,100 acres had been protected—core battlefield land on the 10 battlefields of the eight-county historic district. “Today, that number stands at almost 6,000 acres, thanks to initiatives by our foundation and our partners—the commonwealth of Virginia, Civil War Trust, Lee-Jackson Educational Foundation, and others,” Zirkle said.

The ruins of the tenant house remain on the Huntsberry Farm property, which is part of the Third Winchester battlefield.

It is an accomplishment, he said, but added that, in Virginia, approximately 14,000 acres of core battlefield remain unprotected, some of it already being encroached upon by development. “Some of our most threatened battlefields are those in Frederick County, but the same development pressure is creeping up the valley into Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. Both interstate highways and development have already significantly encroached on battlefield land in Frederick and Warren counties. We do not have long to protect the remaining acreage.”

The foundation’s biggest challenge, he said, is to continue pursuing the $2 million in land acquisition funding that Congress authorized when it passed legislation creating the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District. The funding has not been consistent, Zirkle said, noting that it was not available for 2011 and is uncertain for 2012, because of efforts to rein in federal spending. “But without it, we cannot use matching grants from the state and other sources to purchase land or even easements on land.”

Dirkle at Fisher's Hill
The 1996 legislation also authorized up to another $2 million in matching funding for the management, interpretation, and promotion of battlefields. “We have never received any of this funding,” he said, “thus, some of our protected battlefield land lies fallow.”

The process of protecting battlefields, he said, involves identifying the individual parcels, working with interested sellers, and providing the necessary funding for purchasing the land or placing conservation easements on the land. “Without funding, it is pointless to engage in the detailed preparation work.” And after battlefields become protected, they need to be “respected,” Zirkle said, through proper maintenance and interpretation that will provide both recreational and educational experiences for the public -- all of which requires financial support.

Denman Zirkle stands at the marker for Fisher's Hill, south of Strasburg. It is part of the Third Winchester battle site.

The sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War this year presents a timely opportunity for the foundation, he noted. “We have to tell our story to the citizens of the Shenandoah Valley and the state as well as to a larger audience across the nation. When more people are aware of our work and future challenges, I am confident of significantly more private support.”

(Written by Sookhan Ho, Pamplin College of Business Public Information. Virginia Tech photos.)

No comments:

Post a Comment