On April 28, we moved one step closer toward designating Mill Springs Battlefield a national park, thanks to the leadership of Congressman Hal Rogers.
Before the House passed H.R. 298, a bill to authorize a National Park Service study on including the battlefield in the park system, Rogers offered an inspiring speech on the House floor on the value of the site.
The congressman stated, "After years of work preserving this precious historic site, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association has expressed its desire to turn the site over to the National Park Service and the people of the United States so that the joy of learning and history will be enjoyed by many more people through the years."
Mill Springs Battlefield is an incredibly important site in American history, and deserves recognition as a unit of the National Park System.
More than 150 years ago, the Union achieved its first Civil War victory at Mill Springs. President Abraham Lincoln realized that winning support from the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware was crucial during the Civil War — and it began with this battle. With its rich history and identification by the Interior Department as an endangered battlefield, these and other stories deserve to be examined and shared by the National Park Service.
After the Interior Department placed Mill Springs Battlefield on its list of endangered battlefields back in 1991, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association was formed and started working with dedicated community volunteers to leverage private and public funds to preserve important tracts at the site.
The association opened a 10,000-square-foot visitor center and museum to interpret and educate visitors about the battle. Interactive interpretive exhibits, state-of-the-art archives, a gift shop and meeting rooms are adjacent to the association's 500 acres of battlefield land. The association also maintains more than two miles of hiking trails and an eight-mile, 10-stop driving tour with more than 20 interpretive panels.
It is the goal of the association to donate all of the battlefield acreage, historic homes on the property and the visitor center to the federal government with the condition that the site be designated a unit of the National Park System. This would ensure the site is protected in perpetuity for future generations.
The designation of Mill Springs Battlefield as a national park would also bring a significant economic boost to Eastern Kentucky. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has touted the potential for Eastern Kentucky to become a regional tourist destination. A Mill Springs Battlefield national park site can and should be a part of that transformation.
National park sites are proven economic engines — every dollar invested in the National Park Service yields nearly $10 in economic activity. In 2012, national parks supported 243,000 local jobs and pumped $26.75 billion into the economy. We should work to bring some of those benefits to our communities.
With passage of a special resource study in the House, we are closer to our goal of national park designation for Mill Springs Battlefield. We now turn to the Senate for similar leadership in getting a bill introduced and passed soon. We encourage those throughout Kentucky who want to see this become a reality to stand with us and make your voices heard in the coming months.
Jack Keeney is executive director of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association; Emily Jones is senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.