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The Fight at Willson's Creek

Related Link: Learn more

about Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

For most small national park sites around the country, attracting visitors is a good thing.

But at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Southwest Missouri, more visitors has meant more problems for park managers'they're looking for ways to call a truce between two types of visitors on the verge of doing battle: those who use the park for recreational activities and those who come to learn about the history of the site.

Missy Shelton reports from member station K-S-M-U in Springfield, Missouri.

Nats of battlefield (bugs hissing, birds, etc)

The more than 17 hundred acres that make up Wilson's Creek National Battlefield provide an idyllic setting that attracts equestrians like Gail Garside'she comes to the site about twice a week to ride.

On a recent visit, she brought a horse named java.

***Nats of horse riding

she says, "she's been on vacation this summer because of the heat and humidity so it's time to start getting in shape, both of us'she'll probably get in shape faster than me. She's younger." :07

***Nats continue under me

Garside says there's nothing like riding java on the trails that wind through the site of the first major civil war battle west of the Mississippi.

She says, "I like the sense of history. it just feels right here. There's spirituality about this place. Maybe it's the Ozarks but it just feels good.":08

Bicyclists also say the park just feels good.

Not only is the place beautiful but it seems safe for bikers.

Many of the roads outside the park have just two lanes and no shoulder.

As more bikers choose to ride in the park, tensions have grown between them and tourists.

In the past year, there was a major accident when the path of a recreational biker crossed the path of a woman walking through the park.

Richard Lusardi, superintendent of the park explains.

he says, "an individual walker on the tour road was unfortunately run into by a bicyclist who had gone around the track, uh, around the track, i shouldn't say track, uh'who had gone around the tour road at least twice and then ran into the individual and knocked himself and her unconscious." :21

given the increase of both tourists and those using the park for recreation, Lusardi has been trying to make peace with both camps, while not losing sight of the park's mission.

He says his goal is to make people understand there's a difference between a battlefield and a park.

He says, "some unfortunately look at the word national park service as meaning this is a park as opposed to a battlefield. and there is a difference but we have to maintain a vigilance to make sure that we don't change the scope of what the battlefield was created for and that is to say that this not a national recreational area. it's a national battlefield." :26

and since wilson's creek is a battlefield, lusardi says he should spend his limited resources on the historical offerings of the park, not on better parking for horse trailers. that has been a point of contention.

And recreational enthusiasts say they aren't the only ones creating conflict.

Biker Amanda cook says on a recent ride through the park, a tourist driving on the tour road which has separate lanes for cars and bikes nearly ran her over.

She says, "this man just started edging me off out of the bike lane. It was all I could do just to fall in the grass and not hit his car. And he didn't even stop, didn't even notice. he acted like it was my fault." :10

This summer, anger exploded as rumors circulated that park managers might adopt a management plan that calls for the elimination of recreational activities in the park.

But after two public meetings and a number of one-on-one discussions, most everyone is convinced the park isn't ready to give the boot to bikers and horseback riders.

There's no widely accepted solution to prevent the clashes that sometimes occur between tourists and recreational enthusiasts 'but now that there's a public dialogue, some say there's a better understanding of the tough position the park is in, trying to cater to the two groups.

Biker Kevin Umloff has been one of the most vocal in these discussions'he says after the public meeting he attended, he's willing to work with the other side, the history buffs.

He says, "I think there are some scheduling issues. I think during re-enactment times and times when they need it, I think we should be excluded. I think everybody came together and really wants to see this work for the benefit of everybody. And I think it should." :11

And Umloff points out, he may be going to the park for recreational purposes but he says he's also become interested in the history of the place.

He says, "you find yourself getting off and reading the markers and prior to me going out there to run, I don't know that I would've gone out there to be a part of it and to understand it." :10

And park managers say that's the point. that's why they don't want to stop people from riding their bikes or their horses'if those people think about what happened on the ground beneath them, the park's mission has been fulfilled.

For N-P-R news, I'm Missy Shelton in Springfield, Missouri.