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Kings Mountain battle anniversary events in jeopardy at national park

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/02/16/01/TJ8HY.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    A closed sign hangs outside of the visitors’ center at Kings Mountain National Military Park, which is closed because of government shutdown.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/02/16/01/VaVoN.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Christopher Whitlock 7, left, with his grandparents Dean Gordan, center, and Kim Gordan , of Hickory Grove, S.C., walk away after they are stopped by the closed sign at the visitors’ center at Kings Mountain National Military Park. Christopher was hoping to go hiking with his grandparents after getting out of school early for grandparents day. The park is closed because of government shutdown and may cancel weekend activities.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/02/16/01/1hqRWx.Em.138.jpeg|209
    ROBERT LAHSER - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Christopher Whitlock and his grandparents, Dean and Kim Gordan, had hoped to spend Wednesday hiking trails at Kings Mountain National Military Park, but found the park and visitors’ center closed due to the government shutdown, which furloughed 17 employees at the park. Located near Blacksburg, S.C., the Revolutionary War battlefield and park draws about 500,000 visitors a year and is ranked among South Carolina’s top 10 tourist attractions.

BLACKSBURG, S.C. Even before Kings Mountain National Military Park came into being in 1931, people were drawn to the hallowed ground to honor a decisive Patriot victory Thomas Jefferson called the turning point of the revolution.

One of the earliest ceremonies was in 1815 when a monument was dedicated for Patriot hero William Chronicle. George Bancroft, “the Father of American history,” spoke there on Oct. 7, 1880. And on the same date in 1930 President Herbert Hoover addressed thousands at the battlfield.

Park officials hope this year won’t mark the first time in history that a commemoration doesn’t happen at the actual battlefield.

But unless the government shutdown ends all events will be canceled, they said. During the current shutdown 17 park employees have been furloughed.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Chris Revels, chief ranger at the park. “Real unfortunate.”

Located near Blacksburg, S.C., adjacent to the Kings Mountain State Park, the military park draws about 500,000 visitors a year and is ranked among South Carolina’s top 10 tourist attractions.

October is the park’s biggest month. Special events focusing on the Revolutionary War battle fought there on Oct. 7, 1780 draw visitors from all over the country.

Between Friday and the battle anniversary on Monday, officials expected between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors for special events that included reenactors, a lantern tour of the battleground, lectures and Celtic music.

On Monday,they’ve planned a wreath-laying ceremony at the 90-foot tall U.S. monument and at 3 p.m., the approximate time the battle began, the arrival of the Overmountain Victory Trail marchers at the park.

The Victory Trail association formed in 1975 to protect and preserve the route the patriots took across the mountains to the Kings Mountain battlefield. Today, that route is the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, a 330-mile trail through four states, Virginia, Tennessee and North and South Carolina.

The nonprofit OVTA has evolved into a teaching organization that has presented the Kings Mountain story to nearly 9,000 fourth-graders in public, private and home schools.

Association President Marc Bowen is hopeful government leaders will “get things worked out” before the weekend.

But if they don’t “we still plan to celebrate the sweat and blood of these men who fought on the mountain in 1780,” Bowen said. “We just don’t know the exact location where it will take place yet.”

He said details will be announced on the association’s website www.ovta.org.

Meanwhile, officials said many people are calling the national park to ask about the status of events.

Revels advises people to keep up with news about the government shutdown.

Some are finding it difficult to make plans.

“A woman from Ohio whose ancestor fought here called and asked if I recommended for her to come,” Revels said. “I told her I couldn’t advise her to start the trip. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

He recalled that when the park closed for several weeks during the 1995 government shut down it didn’t fall during the battle anniversary.

On Wednesday morning, things were quiet around the park. A few bicyclists cruised by on the public road. An elderly Florida couple stopped to tell Revels they were lost and looking for Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Outside the Visitors Center, Deana Thorpe consulted with her mother, Cynthia Lauritzen 66, and sister, Darcy Lauritzen, 29, both of Jesup, Iowa.

They looked forward that morning to hiking and fresh autumn, but found the Visitors Center parking lot blocked.

A sign on the front gate announced the park had closed because of the government shutdown.

“I didn’t ever think about this,” Thorpe, 37, said. “Why didn’t I think about this? I’m so disappointed they’re not open.”

The park’s paved trails, woods and signs interpreting an important event in American history were so close – yet beyond their reach.

“We’ll have to find something else to do today,” Thorpe said as she drove away.

DePriest: 704-868-7745
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