Keeping Adams Country


Groups aim to balance county’s history, rural character and development opportunities

By Alex J. Hayes  |  Photography by Casey Martin

In Adams County, dirt conquers concrete.

The Michaux State Forest spreads across the western and northern tiers. The Gettysburg National Military Park covers 5,700 acres in the central section. Everywhere, open fields, mature woods and clear streams are more prevalent than shopping centers or residences.

Much of the area looking the same as it did in the 1800s is not due to lack of interest from developers. For decades, conservationists from several organizations have worked to protect the county’s rural character. They accomplish their goals through several different methods, but always with the cooperation of private property owners who value natural resources and scenic beauty.

American Battlefield Trust

The American Battlefield Trust formed in 1999 as a result of the merging of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and the Civil War Trust, two organizations founded in the 1980s when rampant development threatened the landscapes of Civil War battle sites. 

The Trust is a multifaceted organization that educates people about the war that divided America. 

Mary Koik, the organization’s director of communications, said the Trust believes those lessons are best learned on the sites where conflict occurred, with the land in an almost identical state as it was 161 years ago.

“Gettysburg is a very special place. I know when you live here, you probably get sick of hearing that, but it is hallowed ground,” she says.

Koik is a self-proclaimed “history nerd” who has pictures of herself standing on Little Round Top as young child. Much of Gettysburg National Military Park’s land was acquired shortly after the park’s founding in 1895, but some sites that the Trust deems pivotal to telling the story of the battle remained in private hands. Hotels, restaurants and miniature golf resorts were erected, much to the chagrin of historians.

Over time, owners of some of those properties—such as Lee’s Headquarters on Buford Avenue, Mulligan MacDuffer on Baltimore Pike and Pickett’s Buffett on Steinwehr Avenue—sold their land to the American Battlefield Trust, a process Koik emphasizes is a mutual agreement.

“They have to be willing to sell, and they have to be willing to sell to us,” Koik says. 

The Trust pays fair market value for the lands it buys, and nothing prevents other interested parties from attempting to negotiate with owners. The Trust never engages in the practice of eminent domain, which is the process of a government entity taking land despite a current owner’s objections.

The organization’s timelines for restoring lands to their 1863 appearance vary based on a variety of factors, such as available funds, permit requirements and current condition. Occasionally, the Trust purchases a property from a current resident and agrees to lease the home back to them until their death. 

The organization is still finalizing plans for one of its most recent acquisitions, General Pickett’s Buffett on Steinwehr Avenue. The site will include a parking lot so people can access nearby Pickett’s Charge. 

“We are being very intentional for coming up with an interpretive plan for the property,” Koik says. 

Pennsylvania law states the nonprofit organization is not required to pay property taxes on the lands it owns. This angers many residents and leaders, who believe that once a property changes hands it is off the tax rolls, increasing the tax burden for other property owners. 

This argument is one of the biggest myths about the American Battlefield Trust, Koik says.

“We are sensitive to that concern, so we still do pay taxes,” she explains.

However, the amount a property is taxed can be reduced if the Trust changes its use, removes buildings or performs other changes that alter its assessed value. If the Trust gifts a property to the Gettysburg National Military Park, it is then removed from the tax rolls.

Discussions over how much of Gettysburg should be preserved have filled municipal buildings, offices, taverns and coffee shops ever since the Gettysburg National Military Park first started acquiring land. Koik suspects those debates will continue for many more years, but she can say one thing with absolute certainty—the American Battlefield Trust has no intentions of purchasing and preserving every property where conflict occurred.

“Even if we wanted to have a universal acquisition vision, that would be impractical,” she shares.

While the American Battlefield Trust is mainly known in the Gettysburg area for its preservation efforts, education is its primary purpose, Koik says. Property acquisitions help give students of history a sense of place, but the Trust must take those lessons a step further by making it known what happened there and how decisions made 161 years ago affect us today.

“How sad would it be if, in a generation, people went to these places and didn’t understand what happened there?” she says. “We would have put it in all of this effort and this money just to have them go unappreciated. That would not be fulfilling our mission.”

Preserving Lands Outside the Battlefield

Much of Adams County’s 518 square miles never saw Civil War conflict. Dean Schultz, founding president of the Land Conservancy of Adams County and a longtime local engineer now in his 80s, recalls a survey the Adams County government conducted in the early 1990s asking citizens about a variety of topics, including the importance of preserving the county’s land.

“I think over 80 percent of the people marked it as the highest item of importance that should be addressed in the comprehensive plan,” Schultz says.

As a result, a small group of residents formed the Land Conservancy of Adams County in 1995. In the past 29 years, the Land Conservancy has preserved more than 13,275 acres of farmland, meadows, forests, streams and historical spaces.

Like the American Battlefield Trust, the Land Conservancy of Adams County only works with willing landowners, says Sarah Kipp, convervation director. Unlike the American Battlefield Trust, the Land Conservancy does not purchase properties but instead buys or accepts donations of properties’ development rights.

When the conservancy buys the development rights, also known as easements, those agreements are set in perpetuity and prohibit all future owners from development. 

Kipp says the conservancy considers a property’s size, proximity to other preserved lands, water resources and vulnerability to development when determining to purchase a development easement. The organization’s budget is also a factor, since it is a 501(c)3 organization mainly funded by grants and donations.

Similar to the American Battlefield Trust, Kipp stresses that the conservancy’s goal is not to cover Adams County with open fields and woodlands.

“The county is still growing. We are trying to shape where it grows. I want all of our boroughs and towns to thrive, I want more development there,” Kipp says. “We can preserve the open countryside and rural landscape while also having growth and development in the appropriate places.” 

To learn more about the American Battlefield Trust, visit More information about the Land Conservancy of Adams County can be found at


About Author

Alex J. Hayes

Alex began his journalism career in 2005 as a staff writer for the Gettysburg Times. He has covered wide breadth of stories, from municipal meetings that ended in screaming matches to police trapping a stray alligator in Cumberland Township. Hayes prides himself in taking a people-centric approach to journalism and believes everyone has a story that needs to be shared. He lives in Mount Joy Township with his wife and fellow writer, Ashley Andyshak Hayes as well as their dogs, Toby and Callie.

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