Rogers leads renewed push for battlefield's National Park Service status
By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
With a new Congress comes a renewed push for the inclusion of the Mill Springs Battlefield into the U.S. National Park Service.
In recognition of the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs — also known as the Battle of Logan Crossroads — U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) reintroduced on Tuesday bipartisan legislation to honor and preserve the historic Civil War site.
Rogers has long been a supporter of including the 500-acre battlefield into the National Park Service, and this newest bill has U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth (KY-03), Brett Guthrie (KY-05) and Andy Barr (KY-06) as cosponsors.
“This year I am proud to reintroduce legislation to commemorate the historic Battle of Mill Springs and honor those who gave their lives on Kentucky soil,” Rogers said in a press release. “This battle notably affected the outcome of the Civil War, and impacted our nation’s history.
“While the battlefield is already a national historic landmark, and a treasured part of our community, I am proud to stand with members of the Kentucky delegation in seeking to include this historic site into the National Park Service so that we may ensure its preservation for years to come,” Rogers added.
The Battle of Mill Springs occurred on January 19, 1862 in Pulaski and Wayne counties and was the first significant victory for the Union Army in the west. The Confederate defeat at Mill Springs blazed a trail for Union troops to move from Kentucky into Tennessee.
In addition, the battle also marks the death of Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer, who has a memorial dedicated to him at the site.
For years, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA) has led efforts to acquire, preserve and maintain the battlefield for future generations.
New Mill Springs Battlefield Executive Director Stephen McKinney is prepared to work toward making the Mill Springs Battlefield a national park — which involves a massive undertaking to ensure the site and its operations meet all requirements as such.
“That is the goal of the [MSBA],” said McKinney. “Put the organization on sound physical footing and do the things necessary [to reach national park status].”
Thousands of people, both local and otherwise, have visited the local historic site.
Rogers reintroduced binding legislation (H.R. 298) that asks the National Park Service to conduct a study to evaluate incorporating the battlefield into the national park system. If approved by Congress, the federally-led analysis would consider the economic and educational impacts that inclusion of Mill Springs would have on surrounding communities, impact to landowners, and cost of federal government operation.
If the legislation passes in the House of Representatives, it’ll then go before the Senate, and then to President Barack Obama’s desk.
McKinney said achieving national park status is more difficult now than it was before 2008, thanks to an economy that forced the government to significantly reduce funding for national park projects.
“We have to tailor our operations to be efficient and to have a high educational value and to aid tourism in both Pulaski and Wayne counties,” McKinney said. “ ... We have to have our feet in the door.
“We need businesses, industries and families to support the Mill Springs Battlefield Association because we are not receiving federal funds right now.”
Currently, the Mill Springs Battlefield is being preserved and maintained through private sources. That includes some backing from Pulaski County government.
“The county support for this organization has been absolutely fabulous,” said McKinney. “The county judge-executive (Barty Bullock) has been a wonderful asset, and the kind of support we get from the county is very highly appreciated.”
Previously, Rogers had secured more than $1.35 million in federal funding to enhance the visitor experience at Mill Springs.
If the battlefield achieves national park status — something McKinney says could take anywhere from two to seven years once Obama signs off on the bill — they’ll receive federal funding, which would relieve the county of its own financial obligations.
And adding the Mill Springs site into the national park system would ensure its preservation for future generations.
“There are a lot of upsides to being part of the national park service,” said McKinney. “ ... but they have criteria for traffic and land use.
“How they will interpret what we do is uncertain,” McKinney added.
But, he’s ready for the challenge.
“My goal is to have Mill Springs positioned to be included within the national park system and my efforts are going to be tailored to meeting that goal,” McKinney said. “And in the meantime, we have to expand our membership base and bring more tourist dollars into Pulaski and Wayne counties.”
An introduction to McKinney, Mill Springs Battlefield Association’s newest executive director, and his personal ties to the battle, can be found elsewhere in this edition of the Commonwealth Journal.