Commonwealth Journal

October 26, 2012

Mill Springs Battlefield closing in on national park status

BY HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

The Mill Springs Battlefield may be one step closer to gaining its stripes on the national park scene. 
Former Mill Springs Battlefield Association president Bill Neikirk, along with the association’s newest chairman, Dr. Bruce Burkett, appeared before Pulaski Fiscal Court Tuesday to ask that the county invest in a federal national parks study as part of the effort to include Mill Springs in the U.S. National Parks system. 
“We’re one step closer to becoming a national park,” Neikirk said. 
The association’s efforts to include Mill Springs, located in western Pulaski County, on the U.S. National Parks map has been an ongoing process. 
It was announced in January that Somerset’s Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers had introduced binding legislation directing the National Park Service to conduct a study that would evaluate the potential for bringing the Mill Springs Battlefield into the national park system.
Neikirk said there’s no opposition to the bill, and he said the association has received word that the government would be willing to conduct the survey in the coming months — most likely in winter, since surveys are usually conducted when the leaves are off the trees, thus providing the most visibility. 
The survey would consider the economic and educational impacts that incorporating Mill Springs would have on surrounding communities, impact to landowners, and cost of federal government operation.
“What this does is puts us on the official map,” said Neikirk. 
The cost of the study would be around $20,000 — which Neikirk said is a necessary cost to ensure the battlefield association can move forward in its bid to become a national park. 
“You feel confident that we can get into the park districts if we do this?” asked Fourth District Magistrate Glenn Maxey. 
“I wouldn’t be asking for the money if ... yes, absolutely,” Neikirk answered confidently. 
The Mill Springs Battlefield is currently preserved and maintained through private sources, but adding the Mill Springs Battlefield site into the National Park Service would help ensure its preservation for future generations.
In addition, the battlefield’s current staff — of which there are several full time employees and several part time employees — would be funded through the U.S. government, and not through the county, which has pitched in around $130,000 yearly to cover those salaries. 
“The best part of this is this gets us off your payroll,” Neikirk said. “ ... Our intentions was when we originally started this 21 years ago was that we be self-sufficient.”
Becoming a national park would undoubtedly help the association do that, Neikirk said. 
 “I think it’s  ... a good thing to the fact that if it’s going to get them quicker off our payroll ... I think it’s a good expense,” said Pulaski County Treasurer Joan Isaacs. 
Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock asked whether the association would be able to pitch in anything toward the survey cost. 
“Everybody knows how tight all budgets are and fiscal court’s is no different,” Bullock said. “ ... It would be very helpful to the court if you could (help) but if not we’re more than willing to take this step.”
Neikirk says the floundering economy has had its effect on the association as well, and he said they’ve stretched everything they can to ensure they don’t ask the county for more than their allotted funds to cover salaries. 
“We want to make sure we’re staying in our budget. ... we’re going to live within our means,” Neikirk said. 
Neikirk and Burkett both said they would revisit their budget to see if anything could be spared for the survey cost, which probably wouldn’t need to be paid until next year. 
“I think we’re very conscious of cost,” said Burkett. “As your costs have increased, so have ours.” 
The court voted unanimously to cover the cost of the survey, whether that be the whole $20,000 or whatever is left should the battlefield association be able to pitch in. 
 “I think it’s a good investment on the county’s part,” said Maxey.