My earliest historical memories as a child involve a road trip up to Gettysburg National Military Park. At the time it felt like an epic journey (field trips rule!) with a group of friends. I must have been in elementary school at the time because my impressions of that first trip are mostly of being somewhere away from school, and not much about the battlefield itself.
The battlefield. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)
Fast forward a few years later. I was a senior in high school and we were back over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania. What’s different about this time is context. We had spent weeks talking about the battle and its role in the Civil War. We watched Gettysburg, read The Killer Angels to see how the battle was interpreted, and recognized the love for a fictional Buster Kilraine. I knew more about what I was looking at, and where I was standing. Together the group - like many before us - reenacted Pickett’s Charge, posed in Devil’s Den like a Matthew Brady photograph, and tried to charge up Little Round Top - getting a clearer idea for tactics. It was a great trip. Public history at its finest.
The hills and woods of Gettysburg are covered in boulders. (Photo: macwagen on Flickr)
Although I've been to Gettysburg a few times since then, a day trip this past weekend made me think about the journey in a different way. For those of you not from this city, Gettysburg is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Washington, DC. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 270 and Route 15 just over the Maryland border into Pennsylvania. It is a beautiful drive with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising past you into a brilliant blue sky (in my case this was a surprisingly clear sky following a gentle snowfall). It is also a drive that includes the Catoctin Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway.
Scenic byway through Gettysburg. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)
I think the best definition of what a byway is from the New York Department of Transportation website which states “A scenic byway is a road, but not just a road. It's a road with a story to tell.” These roads push travelers off the beaten path and links together history, transportation and culture. In the case of the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway, you learn about the soldiers who marched to Gettysburg, Maryland’s Native American history, and Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint.
Above all else, what pulled me in and made me grateful for the opportunity was how the byway linked the natural beauty of our country with our past, providing me with a vista that inspires.
The National Scenic Byways Program is just one of many preservation programs threatened in the new American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (HR 7). Learn more about the bill and its effect on historic preservation.