National Military Park officials: $50 million in repairs needed
CHICKAMAUGA, GA (WRCB) -
We may take it for granted. Cannons gracing mountain tops. Monuments honoring the dead from a war that divided the country.
But officials say the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is in need of more than $50 million dollars worth of repairs.
The park spans across Tennessee and Georgia, and vandalism plagues many of the park's Civil War monuments. While some entrance fees help support keeping the gates open, officials say they don't cover most of the costs.
Channel 3 wanted to know why the park put such a big price tag on the needed repairs. From a distance, the Chickamauga Battlefield is in great condition. But Jim Szyjkowski, the park's Chief of Resource Management, says to look a little closer.
"A lot of it goes unnoticed by your average visitor here. But it's still something we need to take care of," Szyjkowski said .
The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military park is competing with hundreds of other national parks for money for its "deferred maintenance" projects, meaning work that's been put off for over a year.
Szyjkowski said most repairs have been needed for much longer than that.
"Just the repairs that I know of are going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars," he said.
Those repairs, which lists include infrastructures and monument stone masonry, can add up quick. The park spans two states and covers 8,000 total acres. The Tennessee side is asking for over $23 million and Georgia is asking for more than $26 million.
While some monuments need fixed up from decades of wear and tear, many have been vandalized. A vandal hit the Kentucky monument, and broke off and stole granite cannon balls.
"I don't think they understand that what they're doing affects the national public," Szyjkowski said.
Park visitors like Richard McCasland and his family are visiting from Oklahoma. He has visited the park multiple times.
"This is our fourth or fifth visit here, and this is the first time for my children and grandchildren," said McCasland. "We can't forget our past. We can't forget what built this country and what almost tore it apart."
The military park, which includes Point Park on Lookout Mountain, includes over 75 miles of trails, 25 miles of roads, several buildings and over 700 monuments.
"Just keeping us open is what our budget is mostly used for, we've got a lot of acres to maintain," said Kim Coons, Chief of Interpretation and Resource Education.
In a park that's been around roughly 125 years, repairs are a constant battle.
"But that's what we were mandated to do," Szyjkowski said. "That's our mission statement: preserve and protect the resources here."
According to the latest National Park Service report, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is one of the most popular national parks in Tennessee.
Over 8 million people visited Tennessee's National Parks last year, which brought in $785 million dollars to the state's economy.