On-line Book
Cover book to Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park. [Image of cannon in the battlefield]
Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park


Table of Contents




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

current topic Chapter 11


Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Appendix V (omitted from on-line edition)

Appendix VI

Appendix VII

Appendix VIII

Chapter 11
National Park Service Arrowhead

More Battles


The Park Service had another issue to resolve before it became embroiled in the Disney controversy: its decision to augment the horse program at the battlefield park. Examination of the history of horse use at the Manassas National Battlefield Park demonstrates how a seemingly innocuous recreational activity evolved into a national debate that questioned the Park Service's commitment to preserve and protect its natural and historical resources. Park neighbors had enjoyed riding their horses throughout the battlefield since the park was established in 1940. Eventually some organized events developed. Francis Wilshin had allowed fox hunts in the park when he was superintendent, a concession to the politically powerful people living nearby. When horseback riding began to overwhelm the historic areas, Wilshin's successor, Russell Berry, put in trails, which controlled but did not eliminate this activity. [2]

At some point in the early 1970s regional office representatives decided that horses may serve a worthwhile official function at the park, in addition to recreation for the public. Horses broken in at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, also located in Virginia, could be trained for Park Service work at Manassas. From Manassas, the horses were assigned to other areas. [3]

Over time, Manassas kept three horses for park protection purposes. Carl Hanson, park ranger under Berry and eventual chief of law enforcement, considered the horses a useful tool for patrolling the park. On horseback, park officials could cover short distances quickly and had a visible presence. In addition, horses provided good public relations because most people like horses. The horses stayed at Sutton Farm, located inside the park boundaries, near the Stone Bridge and north of Lee Highway. Outbuildings suitable for keeping horses had been built by the previous owners. [4]

The horses attracted little public attention until 1986 when National Capital Regional Director Manus J. (Jack) Fish decided to expand the NPS horse program. Fish chose Manassas because he saw a need to enhance equestrian use in the National Capital Region, and Manassas, as part of the region, provided a suitable setting for the program. Originally, Fish wanted to renovate a dairy barn located on the Wheeler tract, a large parcel in the park's southeast corner acquired by the federal government in 1985, to house horses donated to the United States Park Police and train park rangers and individuals in the Volunteers-in-the-Parks program. Marion C. Wheeler donated $50,000 toward the renovation in memory of her husband, William H. Wheeler. By 1987 the renovation had evolved into the proposal to tear down the aging dairy barn and replace it with a fourteen-stall horse barn with an office, tack room, classroom, and showering facilities. This horse remount facility would cost an estimated $120,000. Fish assigned retired U.S. Park policeman Denis Ayres, a noted horseman, to lead the augmented program at Manassas. [5]

John Hennessy, who had served as a temporary park historian at Manassas from 1981 to 1985, led preservationists in an attempt to block construction of the horse remount facility. Hennessy argued that the land identifled for the horse facility was historically significant ground that warranted restoration, not development. Hennessy uncovered this new information while doing research on the Second Manassas troop movement maps for the park. Archaeological excavations completed after Hennessy left the Park Service revealed more evidence at Portici, located adjacent to the proposed remount facility site. The combination of these two finds convinced Hennessy that construction on the Wheeler tract would jeopardize the historical integrity of the area. Bruce Craig and the National Parks and Conservation Association joined Hennessy in trying to stop the project. [6]

Hennessy also wondered the effect such a project would have on the Park Service's credibility as an agency dedicated to the protection of historical and natural resources. If it developed historically significant lands within the park boundaries, the Park Service might appear less credible in its objection to intrusive construction outside the park. The William Center complex was only the most recent and most visible indication of continuing pressures to build along the park's borders. In light of the horse remount program, Hennessy believed that "no one will listen" when the Park Service voiced opposition to this and future outside developments. [7]

In late January 1988 Til Hazel announced plans to add a regional shopping mall to the William Center tract. As the Park Service expressed its concerns over the effects of the mall on the battlefield park, Ed Bearss, NPS chief historian, and Jerry Rogers, cultural resources director, among others, recognized that the NPS held a precarious position. Historical information brought to light by Hennessy made clear that construction of the horse remount facility would constitute an impact on the park. By pursuing construction on the battlefield while opposing development outside, the Park Service opened itself up to a potential public relations disaster. Interior officials, including Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Brian Horn and Deputy Assistant Susan Reece, a horse enthusiast, disagreed with this assessment and tried to pressure NPS Director Mott into continuing the remount program. They argued that the horse program and the William Center project were separate issues requiring separate analysis and action. Mott took Bearss's position and in March 1988 decided to delay construction of the stable pending further review of the historical evidence. The mounting cost of the new horse facility, which grew to as much as four times the Wheeler donation, helped Mott make his decision. The financially strapped National Park Service would have had to use money from interpretation and other programs to build the horse stable, leaving the agency open to further criticism. Ending the discussion of a horse remount facility on the Wheeler tract, the Service returned Mrs. Wheeler's $50,000 donation. [8]

Ayres, who had been reassigned to the Manassas battlefield, stayed to manage the existing horse program at the Sutton tract, which had increased to about sixteen horses. Considered one of the best horsemen in the country, Ayres attracted attention within the Washington horse community. Many people used the park's volunteer patrol program to receive expert advice from him. The volunteer program allowed citizens to ride government horses or their own mounts through the park as they patrolled the trails. [9]

One family ostensibly in the volunteer program attracted considerable attention beginning in the spring of 1989. Vice President Dan Quayle, wife Marilyn, and their children began making regular visits to the Manassas battlefield park to ride the government horses. This visible presence at the park soon prompted the Secret Service to request that Park Service Director James M. Ridenour, Mott's successor, consent to the construction of six to nine additional stalls at the Sutton Farm to house Secret Service mounts used for the Quayle visits. The mounts would not be used specifically to strengthen the park's law enforcement needs. Opposition to this plan grew after the 1990 Columbus Day weekend when the federal government closed the battlefield park and all other nonessential federal government sites for lack of an approved budget. During this lockout, the Quayle family went riding in the Manassas battlefield, accompanied by three park employees. Newspapers did not mince words over the implications of this ride, calling the national battlefield a "private playground" for the Second Family. Repeated questions surfaced over the apparent use of limited park funds for the singular recreational activities of an already unpopular vice president and other influential individuals. It was becoming clear to observers that the original horse program, which had aided in park law enforcement and protection, had been overwhelmed by recreational use. [10]

After a year's debate in the media, Sen. Dale Bumpers, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on national parks, led Congress in defeating the Sutton Farm stable expansion proposal. Congress amended the National Park Service budget to prohibit funding for the stables for fiscal year 1992. Just before the change of administration from George Bush to Bill Clinton in 1993 and after a new fiscal year had started, outgoing Interior Secretary Lujan, who rode at Manassas, ordered the immediate construction of the stables. This work continued until February 1993 when the newly appointed Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, called for its immediate halt. The Park Service then conducted a review of the battlefield park's horse program, including the number of horses, volunteer program, and stable addition. In the meantime, the number of horses was reduced to three, and Ayres stayed at the park to manage them. On 1 March 1995, NPS Director Roger G. Kennedy informed Senator Bumpers that the Service had decided to continue the present level of operation, having a three-horse equestrian program devoted to park protection and law enforcement uses. Recreational riding of park-owned horses would be eliminated, and requests from agencies for assistance in equestrian training would be referred to the U.S. Park Police. This controversy demonstrated that uses acceptable to the public, such as horseback riding in the parks, had narrow limits, which would be challenged. The crisis also made clear that development projects within national park sites, though seen by some federal officials as consistent with the park's preservation mission, would meet with scrutiny from outside observers. Preservation and use was a dynamic duo. [11]

CONTINUED continued


History | Links to the Past | National Park Service | Search | Contact


National Park Service's ParkNet Home