The Gettysburg Little Round Top Rehab Project Photos & Timeline
The $13M Little Round Top rehabilitation project caused the closure of this iconic and historic Civil War landmark since July of 2022. Breaking News: According to an an official at the Gettysburg National Military Park, they are on schedule to re-open in late Spring of 2024.
As a local, I drive by Little Round Top at least once a week and I think visitors will appreciate the changes have been made at this popular spot on the Gettysburg National Military Park battlefield.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Little Round Top rehabilitation project and what you can expect to see when it opens in 2024.
Historic Milestone At Little Round Top
Little Round Top, an iconic landmark on the Gettysburg National Military Park battlefield, underwent an extensive rehabilitation project that started in July of 2022.
With nearly one million visitors each year, and as many as 10,000 per day during peak season of top visitation years, the Gettysburg battlefield site was being “loved to death,” according to the National Park Service.
Overuse, overcrowding and landscape degradation resulted in the need for major stabilization and rehabilitation work.
With a total cost of $13 million (11 million for construction and $2 million for re-vegetation), the Little Round Top rehabilitation project is nearing completion and is expected to open in late Spring 2024.
The National Park Service contractors finished planting grasses in the fall of 2023, giving it time to take root before the site is opened to the public.
Why Was The Little Round Top Rehabilitation Project Needed?
The National Park Service’s goal was to preserve the historical integrity of Little Round Top, and improve accessibility, safety and educational opportunities.
Main Goals Of The Little Round Top Project
The main reasons for the Little Round Top rehabilitation project were:
- Historical Preservation: To maintain and restore one of the most significant battlefields in the American Civil War, ensuring its integrity and historical accuracy for future generations.
- Erosion Control: Addressing severe erosion issues that threatened the stability and appearance of the site, caused by weather and heavy foot traffic over the years.
- Visitor Safety and Accessibility: Improving pathways and viewing areas to ensure visitor safety, making the site more accessible to people of all abilities.
- Educational Value: Enhancing the educational experience for visitors through better interpretation, signage, and viewing areas, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the battle’s significance.
- Landscape Restoration: Reverting portions of the landscape to its 1863 appearance, offering a more authentic and immersive experience of the battlefield as it was during the Civil War.
- Infrastructure Improvement: Upgrading the infrastructure, including roads and pathways, to better accommodate the large number of visitors the site receives annually.
The 12th/44th New York Monument on Little Round Top made my Top 10 Must See Gettysburg Monuments list.
Improving The Visitor Experience
The scope of the Little Round Top rehab project protects the features of Little Round Top and also enhances the visitor experience with improved interpretive signage, new accessible trail alignments and gathering areas.
If you ever explored Little Round Trop or tried to get to lesser-known monuments on the slope, then you will be happy to see new paths that make the trek easier.
Gone are the asphalt walkways and the “social trails” created by visitors going directly from Point A to Point B.
Both have been replaced by a concrete aggregate that was matched to the color of the soil so that it appears you are walking on a dirt path.
The stabilized aggregate is made up of two sizes of stone, pea-sized and grapefruit-sized. It is then mixed with an adhesive to become a bit like a glue.
The aggregate trails appear more natural than asphalt and help preserve the landscape.
Parking & Visitor Safety At Little Round Top
Another reason the National Park Service undertook the Little Round Top rehabilitation project is because of the unsafe bus parking area.
Those arriving by bus had to negotiate a tight space after unloading and then had to navigate walking across the high-trafficked road.
It was not a good — or safe — visitor experience, according to the National Park Service.
As part of the rehabilitation project, two crosswalks have been added on the crest of Little Round Top for bus traffic, with four new crosswalks altogether.
Additionally, fill was added to increase the width of the bus pullover by 15 feet, and a guard rail and retaining wall were added.
No additional vehicle parking spaces were added.
What You’ll See At Little Round Top
In addition to addressing parking areas, poor accessibility and safety issues, the Little Round Top rehabilitation project was designed to prevent continued erosion and replace and improve degraded vegetation.
Prior to the rehabilitation project, there were 2,071 linear feet of accessible trails, which has been increased to 4,220 linear feet, including a 104% increase of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible trails.
Additionally, 1,000 feet of stone breastwork were added and formalized trails made with the natural-looking aggregate concrete replace the helter-skelter social trails that were formed.
Water bars were also added in places to control erosion and water runoff, and native trees, grasses and shrubs were planted.
The design elements, including grasses and groundcover, are intended to make it obvious to visitors where to walk. Wayside exhibits are placed along the trails to encourage people to take the paths, rather than shortcuts across vegetation.
The old social trail from Warren Avenue to the 16th Michigan and a trail to the Sharpshooters Monument were formalized as part of the Little Round Top rehabilitation project. Access to Sykes Avenue and the 20th Maine Monument were also improved.
Additionally, the rehab project involved clearing or thinning trees and vegetation that were not there in 1863.
You may notice from the rendering that the road is more narrow than it was before the rehabilitation project. It went from 22 feet to 15 wide as a way to slow traffic down and funnel them through the area
Curbing has also been added to prevent parking on the shoulders and to help preserve the landscape.
Improving Visitor Accessibility and Safety
Another key objective of the Little Round Top Rehabilitation Project was to improve accessibility for all visitors, including those with disabilities.
This involved constructing new pathways and rest areas that are ADA-compliant and adding wider pathway areas for wheelchair turn-arounds.
Safety enhancements were also a priority. The NPS worked to stabilize slopes and improve railing systems to ensure that visitors can explore the area safely, especially given the hilly terrain of Little Round Top.
To enrich the educational aspect of visiting Little Round Top, the NPS installed new interpretive signage, interactive exhibits, and digital resources to help provide historical context.
Artifact Found At Little Round Top Gettysburg
National Park Service employees used metal detectors to look for artifacts during the Little Round Top rehabilitation project.
In February of 2023, they found a 160-year-old live artillery shell from the Civil War.
The round was seven inches long and weighed about 10 pounds. It was identified as a three-inch Dyer or Burton shell for a rifled cannon.
The Army’s 55th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company (EOD) from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was called in to remove and destroy the shell safely.
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What Took So Long To Complete The Little Round Top Project?
During the rehab project ,the NPS strived to minimize the ecological impact of the rehabilitation project, including protecting the local flora and fauna and preserving the natural landscape surrounding the historical site.
They were also careful not to do anything to the historical site that was irreversible, and they documented everything so that 100 years from now it will be easy to differentiate between new work and old work.
The main holdup of the project was that the original design had to be changed after the project started. The original plans called for a change in elevation and for 5 tons of fill to be added in a critical battle area in order to improve ADA access.
The NPS decided the impact on the landscape was good too big and that part of the project was trimmed back
“It was too extensive, and would have changed the typography and the landscape both visually and physically” said Jason Martz, Communications Specialist. “It was a line in the sand we couldn’t cross.”
The National Park Service stopped work and went back to the drawing board. They then revised the plan, leaving the original terrain elevations and building the trail within the existing landscape.
While eliminating parts of the original plan, they also added another $500,000 worth of new rehab work, such as new breastwork walls and trails, as they attempted to balance preservation and access.
Little Round Top Visitation
For an idea of the reason behind the need for the Little Round Top rehabilitation project, consider that the 30-year-average visitation to Gettysburg is about three million people.
A 2017 study found that 90 percent of visitors visit Little Round Top. So that means that the 25 acres of Little Round Top received about 900,000 visitors every year for 30 to 40 years.
In addition to that was the natural degradation caused by rain and storms, freezes and thaws, over time. There was serious erosion and degraded vegetation.
According to the National Park Service, there was erosion that was beginning to undercut the pavement and foundations of monuments.
Some Witness Trees Lost
I was very disheartened to hear that some witness trees were lost during the Little Round Top rehab project.
Witness trees are those that are old enough to have “witnessed” the Battle of Gettysburg. A witness tree gives visitors the opportunity to touch a living thing that has a direct connection to the past.
Prior to the start of the Little Round Top rehabilitation project, the National Park Service marked the trees to be taken down. Luckily, some private citizens questioned why they were destroying witness trees.
A few trees were then saved by moving the location of pathways, but some trees were still cut down, based on the formula the NPS uses to guess the ages of the trees.
Once they were cut down, the NPS realized that the unforgiving soil on Little Round Top caused the trees to grow more slowly, so they were not as big as witness trees on other parts of the battlefield.
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Why Was Little Round Top Important?
The Battle of Gettysburg, often described as the turning point of the Civil War, was a three-day conflict that resulted in immense casualties on both sides.
Little Round Top gained its fame on the second day of this battle when the Union Army’s left flank was positioned there. Confederate forces tried to capture this strategic high ground and the intense battle that ensued was pivotal in determining the outcome of Gettysburg.
The defense of Little Round Top not only had a significant impact on the Battle of Gettysburg but also on the broader trajectory of the Civil War.
Had the Confederates succeeded in taking this position, it could have led to a very different outcome in the war. The Union victory at Gettysburg, bolstered by the defense of places like Little Round Top, marked a turning point that shifted the momentum in favor of the Union forces.
The rehabilitation not only preserves the sacred ground of Little Round Top, but also ensures that future generations can learn about and reflect on the sacrifices made there.
The seemingly modest hill on the Gettysburg battlefield holds a monumental place in American history, being the scene of one of the most crucial confrontations during the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863.
Help Protect Historic Sites
Visitors can help maintain the health of the Gettysburg Battlefield and other historic sites by staying on paved paths and walkways.
The creation of “social trails,” made by millions of visitors going off the noted pathways, creates natural resource damage and serious erosion problems.
These erosion problems lead to long-term rehabilitation projects that cost millions of dollars, just like the Little Round Top rehabilitation project.
The Little Round Top rehabilitation project not only preserves a crucial piece of American history but also creates a space where visitors can engage with the past in a meaningful way.
Planning A Trip To Gettysburg?
If you’re planning a trip to Gettysburg, make sure you figure out what season is the best time to visit for you.
Don’t forget to leave time to explore some museums and take a ghost tour! (If you don’t’ want to take a ghost tour, then at least check out the most haunted places in Gettysburg on your own, or better yet, spend the night in a haunted hotel).