Two of the top attractions at the Gettysburg National Military Park will be closed to tourists this summer for rehabilitation projects to address erosion, parking, overcrowding, and safety concerns.
Devil’s Den, the outcropping of bolders on the battlefield, closes to the public on Monday to fix damage that could be hazardous to visitors. Soil has eroded from underneath a walkway, and staircases have been worn and weathered over time. Social trails − short cuts created by tourists − have exacerbated erosion at the site.
It will remain closed for five to six months, said Jason Martz, a spokesman for the park service. The roads and the parking area will remain open during construction, and visitors will be warned in advance about any temporary closures, such as to make deliveries to the site. Tourists can still visit Devil’s Kitchen, Slaughter Pen, and the Triangular Field.
Meanwhile, Little Round Top is expected to close to the public sometime this spring and remain off-limits for up to 18 months to address similar problems. One of the concerns is that the soil has been falling away on the east side of “the castle” − the 44th New York Infantry Regiment’s Monument − and if allowed to continue, it could damage the underpinning of the 1893 memorial, Martz said.
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Plans call for making Little Round Top more accessible for people with disabilities, reconfiguring the parking for buses and cars, making crossings safer for pedestrians, and using ecologically friendly materials to help prevent water runoff in the large gathering spaces.
Union and Confederate soldiers fought for three days in Gettysburg in July of 1863. It is one of the best-known battles of the American Civil War.
Little Round Top is the No. 1 top tourist spot on the battlefield, Martz said. Ninety percent of the more than 1 million people who came in 2017 visited Little Round Top. The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center ranks as second, and Devil’s Den comes in third.
The improvements have been in the works for more than a decade, and “it’s just coincidence that both of them are happening at the same time,” Martz said.
“There’s no good time to close it,” he said, but added: “Nobody wants it to get worse. They want it to get better.”
Destination Gettysburg sees the closure of the two sites as an inconvenience, but it expects that the impact is going to be minimal, said Carl Whitehill, vice president and director of communications.
“These two projects desperately need to be done,” he said, adding that they will be excited to see the finished product.
No one will be missing out on the Gettysburg story, Whitehill said. Buses will use different routes that will allow visitors to still get the full experience. Tour guides, who have dealt with a government shutdown in the past, are able to adapt.
The rehabilitation at Devil’s Den is expected to cost about half a million, Martz said. The work for Little Round Top is still out for bid, and more details about the timing of the closure will be forthcoming.
The closure of both sites involves about 60 acres. The battlefield is more than 6,000 acres.
“There’s a lot of battlefield out there to see,” Martz said.
Other places to visit include Culp’s Hill, which was recently rehabilitated; Pickett’s Charge, the Wheatfield, and the East Cavalry Battlefield site, according to Martz and Whitehill.