Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News-Record

Kaine Introduces Bill To Enhance American Battlefield Protections

By Harleigh Cupp

WASHINGTON — Amongst the flurry of lobbying days and legislative sessions brought on by the turn of the calendar year, a bill intended to strengthen the already successful American Battlefield Protection Program was introduced to the Senate Jan. 10 by Tim Kaine representing Virginia and Cindy Hyde-Smith representing Mississippi.

Rather than creating a new program, the American Battlefield Protection Program Enhancement Act of 2024 updates the existing program to further execute its mission of preserving America's Civil War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812 battlegrounds.

"From Yorktown to Appomattox, the map of Virginia is a map of America’s military history," Kaine said. "I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to strengthen the American Battlefield Protection Program and help ensure these lands are preserved — so future generations can visit and learn about their importance."

The American Battlefield Protection Program is a special program within the National Park Service that promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields and sites of armed conflict across the United States by offering grant funding to those sites with four different grant types. Since its inception, the program has preserved more than 35,000 acres of historic land in 20 states — including Virginia and Mississippi.

Details of the bill include permitting non-profits and tribes to apply for grants made available through the American Battlefield Protection Program, ensuring all battlefields are applicable for restoration funding, clarifying eligibility of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites for Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants since current law allows all sites associated with the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 to be eligible and creating a process for expanding and updating historic battlefield boundaries.

"I applaud Senators Kaine and Hyde-Smith for their longstanding support for the American Battlefield Protection Program," President of the American Battlefield Trust, David Duncan commented. "The American Battlefield Protection Program is one of the best examples of the private sector working with the federal government to preserve American history. The program encourages nonprofit and state investment in saving hallowed ground, leveraging federal dollars more than three-to-one."

Dan Reinhart — who serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District — explained the connection between local battlefields and the bill.

"The proposed changes would allow us to apply for preservation grants directly," Reinhart said.

Under current law, the district has to apply for those grants through a state government agency, which serves as the applicant for the grant on behalf of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields. For some time, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields has worked with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to obtain funding, but if the American Battlefield Protection Program Enhancement Act of 2024 passes it will be able to apply for and receive the grant funds directly.

In addition to preservation grants, the updated bill would provide greater opportunity for the Shenandoah Valley to apply for battlefield restoration grants as well. According to Reinhart, current law only allows for restoration grant funding to be awarded to properties previously preserved with American Battlefield Protection Program funding.

"We have many battlefields in the Valley that are preserved through donation or with private funding," Reinhart explained. "We're doing a major restoration project on the New Market battlefield now that we couldn't receive any of these funds for, because the land wasn't preserved with American Battlefield Protection Program funds."

A similar bill introduced by Elise Stefanik passed in the House of Representatives last fall.

"There seems to be movement in both the House and Senate on this," Reinhart reflected, "which is a good sign."

The bipartisan American Battlefield Protection Program Enhancement Act of 2024 was cosponsored by Senators Mark R. Warner from Virginia, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen from Maryland, John Cornyn from Texas, Roger Wicker from Mississippi and Thom Tillis from North Carolina.