By Andy Johns
RESACA, Ga. -- A few weeks ago, Ken Padgett was ready to sound the bugle and retreat from Resaca Battlefield. After 20 years of fighting, he thought he'd lost the effort to create a park at the site, where about 150,000 Union and Confederate troops waged war in 1864. "We thought everyone was going to walk away," Mr. Padgett said, standing where the entrance to the park would be off Resaca-LaFayette Road near the Interstate 75 interchange. "We feel if that were to happen, (the park) was never going to happen."
But a letter drafted by the Gordon County Commission and sent to the state Department of Natural Resources has breathed new life into the project. Last Tuesday, the Gordon County Commission agreed to ask the state to get started on the 540-acre site with plans to expand it when state revenues pick up.
Under the proposal, the Department of Natural Resources would use allotted funds to build a road, parking area and interpretive trails at the site, according to Gordon County Commission Chairman Alvin Long. The county would be responsible for maintaining the property, and an area for a visitors' center would be left clear so the state could build it when funds become available, Mr. Long said.
Kim Hatcher, a spokeswoman for Georgia State Parks, said building the road, trails, outdoor exhibits and restrooms is possible, but nothing has been agreed upon. "We look forward to continuing this discussion with Gordon County," Ms. Hatcher said in an e-mail Wednesday.
Mr. Padgett and other local residents began raising the flag for their cause in the early 1990s, and the site progressed as far as a groundbreaking, an announcement from the governor and a $5 million bond issue.
Mr. Long said the state originally allotted $5 million for the park but diverted funds to another project. State officials have said that $3.7 million always was the amount slated for the park.
About $400,000 has been spent on surveying, and about $3.2 million now is left, according to the state.
In December, after the state said it couldn't handle the project in the current budget crisis, the county voted to take over the site as a county park. But soon afterward, local leaders said $3.2 million is not enough for the project. They worried that if the county couldn't build it at that price, the state might reallocate the funds elsewhere.
On top of that, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required the county to reapply for permits to build in a flood plain, which the state already had granted. Getting new permits would have delayed the project at least six months, and officials want the park open for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War beginning in 2011.
"We've really been let down," Mr. Long said. "It's the best and only option we have right now."
Mr. Long said he hopes the road and trails could be finished by the end of the year. There's no definite time frame for the visitor center. The Department of Natural Resources "is skeletonized right now," Mr. Padgett said. "At least we have this."