Why is Preservation Important?
Why is preserving the Buffington Island battlefield important? Beyond the obvious prevention of destruction of the ground in the name of "progress," there is also the honoring of those who fought upon those sacred fields by preventing their battlefield from being turned into a subdivision or retail strip mall. There is also another benefit to battlefield preservation - economic growth - as battlefields are a major tourist destination. Saving more of Buffington Island battlefield, and then providing an immersive battlefield experience through interpretation can bring more tourism dollars into the area. According to Blue, Gray, & Green, a publication from the American Battlefield Trust, a national Civil War battlefield brings $1000.00 from a family of four during a visit. We can see the breakdown of that $1000.00 on the following visual:
Okay, but you may counter that Buffington Island is not a battlefield in the National Park System and so the above numbers do not apply. True, but even a site like Buffington Island brings tourism dollars into the region. There are those who are out visiting the various Ohio History Connection sites (I spoke to a family of four at the last memorial service who were doing that very thing, and then since they had access to the revised battlefield driving tour they also took the opportunity to visit more of Portland Bottoms). There are others who are following Morgan's command along the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail across Ohio and Buffington is one of the major locations on the trail. And some come simply to see Ohio's only Civil War battlefield (yes, there are other Civil War engagements in the Buckeye State, but none along the same scale as Buffington Island). While Buffington Island might not be a large and established national park, it still attracts tourism dollars and can bring more if preserved and interpreted. Speaking from personal experience - having eaten at Sikorski's in Racine and the Court Grill in Pomeroy on more than one occasion, I have also purchased fuel at a couple of different gas stations in the area. I would venture that many of you reading this post have probably done the same. So while Buffington might not be attracting a family of four who are spending $1000.00 on a visit, there are monetary expenditures occurring in the area from tourism, with the potential of adding to that income.
It is true that preserving more battlefield land and then interpreting that land will bring more visitors into the Portland Bottoms. However, these additional visitors will leave a minimal impact on the Bottoms itself as they will be focused on the preserved battlefield ground and driving the roads used in the battlefield driving tour, and then spending their money in the region for lodging, meals, and fuel. Potentially they will also become members of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation - we really do need to come up with a shorter name - which in turn means their dollars can be tasked for additional preservation and interpretation. This creates a positive cycle of visitation and sustainability for the region and for the battlefield foundation.
How do we accomplish increasing even more tourism dollars for the area? One way is to create a visitor's center in the Portland Bottoms. Ideally this would be located at the Portland Community Center as either a stand alone building or an adjunct to the existing structure. Let's face it, the visitor's center is usually the first place one goes when visiting a battlefield for the first time. Having a visitor's center brings more cash opportunities - a gift shop to sell items such as hats, decals, books, and other various sundries. A staff to manage the visitor's center brings more jobs into the area. Of course even the construction of the center means contractors who would be in the area for a period of time, spending money on meals, lodging, and a cold brew after work.
Adding full interpretation to the Bottoms would also increase more visitation and hence dollars spent. We all love our pictures of artillery pieces and monuments, and there is no reason that Buffington Island could not have both. A series of small monuments, tastefully designed and placed in such a way so as not to detract from the historic viewsheds leads to more photo opportunities. At Perryville battlefield in Kentucky, the most photographed items are the Confederate monument and cemetery, the Union monument, the Bottom House, and the artillery pieces. Give visitors something to see and they will come.
Providing a trail system on preserved ground also brings another type of visitor to the battlefield. Using again Perryville as an example, the trails there not only allow for battlefield trampers to understand the battle, but also provide a place for exercise and nature watching. A trail system at Buffington Island would provide the same options, and attract a different type of battlefield visitor. And this different type of visitor still needs gas, food, and perhaps lodging, bringing those tourism dollars into the region.
In summary, increasing the options for tourists at Buffington will yield more spending in the region, while maintaining a relatively low impact on the Portland Bottoms area. Preserving more battlefield ground and then interpreting that ground will bring more visitors to the battlefield, visitors that will spend money while visiting Ohio's Civil War Battlefield!