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Imagine, if you will, a tree-planting project that not only benefits the environment, but also connects us to our shared American history, and contributes to a deep sense of place. There is such an effort underway in one of the most historic corners of the United States with arborists and partners across a four-state region working in support.

Tree project connects to history and contributes to place

By Shuan Butcher


Imagine, if you will, a tree-planting project that not only benefits the environment, but also connects us to our shared American history, and contributes to a deep sense of place. There is such an effort underway in one of the most historic corners of the United States with arborists and partners across a four-state region working in support.

With the largest concentration of Civil War battlefield sites in the country, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership created the Living Legacy Project to commemorate the Civil War Sesquicentennial. This project of national significance has a goal of planting or dedicating one tree for each of the 620,000 soldiers who died, as a living memorial for their individual and combined sacrifices.

These trees are being planted along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, a historic artery that connects travelers to more than 400 years of European, American and African-American heritage. Upon completion, the Living Legacy Project will be the first 180-mile landscaped allée in the world and the only allée dedicated to honoring the most defining moment in American history. The project will create a unified color palette that reminds visitors that they are, indeed, on hallowed ground. It was upon the battlefields within this region that many soldiers fought and died during the American Civil War, one of our country’s most defining moments.

Rhodeside & Harwell Incorporated, an award-winning planning and landscape architecture practice that has worked with Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. National Arboretum, the C&O National Historical Park, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and other historic parks and sites, created the master plan for the project. Their design incorporates a contextually sensitive, seasonal palette of trees and plantings, including redbuds, red oaks, red maple, and red cedar. A secondary palette, including canopy and understory trees, evergreens, shrubs, and ground coverings, will also feature red as a predominant color, with plantings including possibly black gum trees, sassafras, winterberry, and red poppies.

“The red color will represent valor and courage, and the blood of the many fallen soldiers of the American Civil War,” said Elliot Rhodeside, FASLA, who is responsible for the master plan. “We’ve created a signature palette that is appropriate to the diverse landscapes along this historic corridor, and remains sensitive to the local ecology, scenic views, and development patterns.”

The Rhodeside & Harwell design concept embraces many archetypal landscape patterns, including informal allées, canopy and understory clusters, forests and groves, copses, street tree plantings, and specimen trees. “The key to creating an emotional experience with trees is to place them in evocative and poetic patterns,” the design team noted in its master plan. “The patterns are distilled versions of the natural landscape. They evoke our memory of nature, and thus create an emotional connection to the landscape.”

Thomas Ranier, a project manager for Rhodeside & Harwell, sees the potential of this elegant and simple idea, yet understands the complexity of carrying through the design and plan. “There are trees all over this region, so visibility is an important factor, as well as site sensitivity,” he said. “If patterns get repeated enough, it becomes recognizable to visitors, as well as those that drive on the route every day– it grabs their attention.”

Rhodeside & Harwell was developing the master plan simultaneously as pilot plantings were occurring, allowing for spontaneous feedback. The inaugural tree planting took place at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens. Located in Loudoun County, Va., Oatlands is at the geographical center of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway and is one of two National Trust Historic Sites within the corridor. Trees play a central role in the history at Oatlands — from the magnificent maples and oaks that line the drive, to the stunning specimen trees that preside over Oatlands’ historic buildings and walled garden. The trees, many of which were standing during the Civil War, are considered premier and priceless specimens. “Oatlands is well loved for its spectacular, historic trees lining the front drive and surrounding the historic mansion, greenhouse and gardens,” Oatlands Executive Director Andrea McGimsey stated. More than 300 new trees have been planted on the property as part of the Living Legacy Project. During the dedication ceremony, former Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton and National Trust for Historic Preservation President and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Meeks, two early supporters of the project, spoke at the event.

Up the road from Oatlands, the Town of Leesburg, Va., has signed on as an early proponent and participant in the Living Legacy Project. In late 2013, as part of an elaborate streetscaping plan with the town’s South King Street widening project, 108 trees were planted and dedicated to fallen Civil War soldiers. “The timing of the three-phase planting project was fortunate,” said Bill Ferrence, Parks & Public Space Planner and the Urban Forester for the Town of Leesburg. “The Town was able to slightly modify a previously planned and adequately funded gateway improvement project and integrate it into the Journey Through Hallowed Ground’s efforts to establish a continuous corridor of cohesive plantings along the byway. The Town made some simple adjustments to its plans in order to use much of JTHG’s palette of native trees and shrubs and the result should provide both a significant and sustainable addition to the Town’s tree canopy, as well as a visual and cultural connection to neighboring communities in this historic corridor.”

A second phase of the South King Street project, which will include similar improvements and additional Living Legacy Project trees, will be completed soon, and include approximately 50 additional trees. A third phase, planned for 2015, may involve another 100 trees.

“The Town of Leesburg is an enthusiastic partner in the Journey’s Living Legacy project. Leesburg takes great pride in knowing that we will be planting hundreds more of these very special trees,” said Kristen Umstattd, Mayor of Town of Leesburg. “We have made the Living Legacy part of our official approach to planning and development, and are encouraging our public and private sector partners to join the Journey’s efforts to commemorate the life of each Civil War soldier lost with a living memorial.”

At the northern terminus of this scenic byway, in Gettysburg, Pa., 77 trees have been planted in collaboration with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, including the dedication of a Witness Tree that was on the property at the time of the battle. Placed at the center of the most intense fighting of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Lutheran Theological Seminary and its iconic Seminary Ridge Museum received a National Scenic Byways program grant to create a one-mile outdoor trail — featuring trees planted as part of the Living Legacy Project — that complements the museum visit with wayside markers. “Long acting as steward of the landscape that witnessed this powerful moment in the nation’s life, this planting represents an important and continuing commitment to bring to life the voices of key figures such as Daniel Payne and Lydia Zeigler who have much to teach us today,” said the Rev. John Spangler, president of the Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation.

Jeff Yunginger of Yunginger Landscape Nursery LLC located in Mohnton, Pa., wanted to get involved with the project to honor the memory of all the fathers and their sons who fought side by side, or even against each other during the American Civil War. Being in business all his life, he currently works with his sons in carrying out their work. “As I reflect on what sacrifices were made in our past so we can enjoy our freedoms today, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What stories do I know of how our freedoms have been won?’” Yunginger stated. “I would see this Journey Through Hollow Ground project as an extension of our American Heritage, expressing the sacrifice of our past, to the devotion of our future.”

Following the planting at Lutheran Theological Seminary, 248 Living Legacy trees were planted at Gettysburg National Military Park on November 19, 2013, the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was in that 272-word speech that our nation’s 16th President enjoined future generations to, “Take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” So, on that November 2013 day, more than 300 people gathered to not only commemorate one of America’s most enduring speeches of all-time, but to celebrate the restoration of the orchard at Bliss Farm to its existence at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Bliss Farm, which is located just off the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, was abandoned by the Bliss family prior to the battle. Located between Seminary and Cemetery Ridge, it was in the middle of Lee’s and Meade’s armies and was exchanged many times between Union and Confederate troops due to its strategic position and offerings. National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis was on hand for this momentous occasion and served as the keynote speaker during the dedication ceremony.

Funding for the trees came from WITF Public Radio and The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ TreeVitalize program, a broad-based public/private partnership to increase public awareness of the importance of community trees, and to reverse the loss of tree cover in the state’s communities. Christine Ticehurst, a certified arborist who serves as the Community Greening & Grant Administration Specialist for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, learned of the Living Legacy Project a couple years ago and wanted to find a way to get involved. “This initiative is a great fit with our TreeVitalize program and the idea of a multi-state effort on this scale is exciting,” she said.

In Maryland, 120 trees have also been planted in partnership with the Town of Williamsport and the Maryland Forest Service. In the near future, plantings are also scheduled in Emmitsburg and Frederick, two towns located along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway. Also known as the “Old Carolina Road,” a major north-south route used by Native American tribes, Colonial settlers, Civil War soldiers, and modern travelers, the Living Legacy Project is seen as a way to improve and unify the landscape. “This is just another great opportunity to partner with another organization to receive a benefit, it just shows you the many benefits that trees provide,” said City of Frederick Arborist Tom Rippeon.

More trees are also being planted in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia in collaboration with organizations such as the Maryland State Highways Administration, Mount St. Mary’s University, Seton Shrine, the Virginia Department of Transportation and with towns, property owners, and sites up and down the corridor. Certified Arborist Terry Lasher, a senior area forester with the Northern Virginia District with the Virginia Department, has served on the planning committee nearly from the beginning. For him, this project is blending two different passions — forestry and history. He sat on the selection committee for the master plan and the pilot planting, and has helped secure grant funding for the project. He is able to bring his experience with urban forestry implementation and help turn ideas into practice. “I see this project as a functional ecosystem and not just landscaping,” he said. “By focusing on native species, this type of project will create its own ecosystem.”

Along the way, the Living Legacy Project has created some unique and wonderful partnerships. Ancestry.com<ITAL] P project. has linked the Living Legacy Project to its Fold 3 Memorial Pages and provided complimentary subscriptions to participating classrooms for their use in researching soldiers’ stories. In addition, GIS software industry leader ESRI is collaborating with the Living Legacy Project to provide database software and technical assistance for educators participating in the project.

Students from Vermont to Virginia have been researching the stories of fallen soldiers. Students from Hartford Memorial Middle School (Hartford, Vt.) and students from Gettysburg Area Middle School, gathered in Gettysburg to plant trees in honor of Pliny White and George Shriver, fallen soldiers from their respective communities. More than 50 students traveled from Virginia to Gettysburg to help dedicate the trees on November 19, 2013 to soldiers they had researched. “These students, through their individual and collective efforts, are helping to make history not only relevant to themselves, but to each of us,” said Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership President Cate Magennis Wyatt. “And they are discovering the deep-seeded roots that binds us all, regardless of where we live.”

Arborists, nurseries, community groups, businesses, schools, reenactors, history buffs, private landowners, and other individuals can contribute to this project. The JTHG Partnership is seeking $100 contributions to support and plant each tree. Donors may select a soldier to honor, as the trees will be geo-tagged to allow Smart Phone users to learn the story of the soldier, providing a strong educational component to engage interest in the region’s historical heritage and help bring the tree to life. More than 350 organizational partners of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership are already engaged with the Living Legacy Project. “We are well aware of the fact an undertaking of this scope and magnitude has never been done, but we are steadfast in our belief that not only can it be done but it shall be done with an amazingly wide range of partnership,” stated Wyatt.

Among the partners helping to promote this worthy endeavor are Penn Atlantic Nursery Trade Show and the Tree Care Industry Association. This summer, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership will be an exhibitor at the PANTS convention July 30-31, 2014 in Philadelphia. The organization will also have a booth at the TCIA convention in Hartford, Conn., November 13-15, 2014. For those interested in learning more about the project or finding out how to get involved, visit the JTHG exhibit at either of these gatherings or check out their website at www.hallowedground.org<ITAL].


Shuan Butcher is director of communications at the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. Butcher, a member of the National Press Club from Frederick, Md., is a writer and frequent contributor to local, regional and national publications. He writes about history, arts, culture, tourism and other important quality-of-life subjects.<ITAL]


About the Region

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area is a 180-mile long, 75-mile wide swath of land stretching from Gettysburg, Pa., to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Va., that contains a vibrant natural, historical, and cultural landscape. Known as the region “Where America Happened,” it contains more history than any other region in the nation and includes:

National and World Heritage sites
Over 10,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places
49 National Historic districts
Nine Presidential sites
13 National Park units
Hundreds of African American and Native American heritage sites
30 Historic Main Street communities
Sites from the Revolutionary War, French-Indian War, and the War of 1812
The largest collection of Civil War sites in the nation.

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