Cyclists beat the traffic for Gettysburg battlefield tour

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Bicycles offered one of the best ways to get around this crowded Adams County borough Saturday.

Local streets and state highways in and around the town and the adjoining Gettysburg National Military Park filled with cars, trucks and buses. Saturday was the penultimate day of the community's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the epic Civil War battle fought there in July 1863.

"Riding a bike through the park is much better than being in those lines of cars," David Kelly of Alexandria, Va., said. He and the other riders touring historic sites along Union lines took a water break under trees near the Pennsylvania Monument.

"We just came from Little Round Top," he said. "Getting up there was taking 40 minutes by car and just four minutes by bike."

Not all the visitors to Gettysburg traveling on two wheels were doing so under their own power. While Mr. Kelly and his friends listened to a brief talk by licensed battlefield guide Bob Steenstra, a gaggle of Segway riders headed north on Hancock Avenue. They were headed toward the spot on the battlefield often described as "The High Water Mark of the Confederacy." At that site, "The Angle" and the "Copse of Trees" mark where Southern troops broke through Federal lines but were not able to hold the ground.

Many of the roads through the military park are one-way for motor vehicles, leaving plenty of room for both walkers and cyclists. While the number of bicycles seen around the park represented just a tiny fraction of the number of cars, the bike rack at the park's Museum and Visitor Center was filling up in mid-afternoon.

Ambitious cyclists who follow the recommended auto-tour route marked on U.S. National Park Service maps would cover 24 miles and pass 16 sites that played important roles in the three-day battle. Riders, however, can map out their own, shorter routes.

Sidewalks around Lincoln Square, at the center of downtown Gettysburg, were as crowded as U.S. Routes 30 and 15. The result was that cyclists had to walk their vehicles through those areas, sharing the space with pedestrians.

The nine-day commemoration of the bloodiest battle in the history of the Americas will conclude this afternoon with a re-creation of Pickett's Charge by several thousand re-enactors on the Redding Farm. The site is about 2 miles north of downtown Gettysburg. It marks the third such event recalling the unsuccessful Confederate attempt to break the center of the Union line on July 3, 1863.

Back at the actual battlefield, National Park Service rangers will lead hikes and give free talks today on different aspects of the fight. Civil War historians will continue their series of one-hour talks, question-and-answer sessions and book signings. Those events will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a tent outside the Museum and Visitors Center.

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Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184. First Published July 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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