By Jessica Clevenger – Gettysburg, rightfully so, is known for its rich history. More than one million people visit and revisit Gettysburg each year to hear the stories of the people, to take in the battlefield and to learn about what life was like for soldiers and civilians during and after that pivotal Civil War battle in July of 1863. History is and always will be a tremendous part of Gettysburg’s story, but there’s an often overlooked aspect of the battlefield that’s just as intriguing: its natural landscape.
When you visit Gettysburg’s battlefield, you are visiting 5,989 acres of preserved land. The vast acreage features a diverse landscape; containing naturally rolling hills and valleys, woodlots, streams, fields and pasturelands that, according to the National Park Service, are home to up to 187 bird, 34 mammal, 17 reptile and 15 amphibian species. Imagine encountering wildlife such as white-tailed deer, red-winged blackbirds, a red fox, spotted turtle or monarch butterfly while visiting. Plant life also thrives; the battlefield contains 553 vascular plants, 410 of which are native. White oaks, northern red oaks and black cherry trees help fill the woodlands, and while on the battlefield, visitors are in the presence of an array of herbaceous plants and wildflowers.
Visitors who are interested in experiencing the natural side of the battlefield can do so in a variety of ways. Taking in a sunrise or sunset while visiting Gettysburg is a great way to view the natural beauty of the landscape at a time of day when that beauty is magnified. If walking and hiking are activities you enjoy, some form of wildlife is sure to be spotted on a guided or self-guided walking tour of the grounds. The Park Service offers many free, Park Ranger-led walks and hikes that make it easy to try and spot the wildlife that surrounds you, all while taking in a bit of history, too. Additionally, the battlefield features a variety of paved and non-paved trails that enable visitors to take in the scenery on their own. For views of the landscape from a higher perspective, try a horseback tour of the battlefield.
And it’s not just the sights, but the sounds, too. While on the battlefield, be sure to notice the sounds of nature, especially when out in the early morning. The grounds are open year-round at 6 a.m. and the first of the day is an ideal time to hear the sounds of the birds singing, the insects chirping and creatures rustling in the woods.
Taking one step onto the Gettysburg battlefield makes it difficult not to feel appreciation. Appreciation for the history that took place on the hallowed grounds, but also for the beauty of the preserved natural land and wildlife that you’re surrounded by. Whether you are a nature lover or just looking for a new way to experience the destination, be sure to take in the natural side of Gettysburg’s battlefield on your next visit.