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Pennsylvania

Gettysburg prepares for 150th anniversary of battle

The commemoration of this year’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg will include amenities that soldiers would have relished 150 years ago.

A groomed path to the top of Little Round Top. Expanded cell phone coverage. Dozens of portable toilets.

The National Park Service and a cadre of community organizers are busily putting the finishing touches on preparations for the commemoration of the pivotal battle of the American Civil War that cemented the small Pennsylvania town’s place in U.S. history. Tens of thousands of visitors are expected for a 10-day schedule of events that begin June 29.

To help visitors better understand what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863, the National Park Service first decided to look back.

There were about 51,000 casualties – historical estimates put the total dead around 7,500 – at Gettysburg, considered a major turning point of the war after Northern forces turned away a Confederate advance.

In the years and decades that followed, natural and man-made changes, such as a motel and a forest, altered the landscape.

The battlefield rehabilitation process grew out of a master plan in 1999 that didn’t set the 150th anniversary in 2013 as a deadline – though it was a welcome and timely coincidence. The rehab work, which is mostly complete, is concentrated on areas of “major battle action.”

“You can’t ever go back in time to 1863, but you can deal with the major features so you can better understand the story,” Bob Kirby, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, said.

Other fresh elements have been added in recent years, including an airy visitors center that opened in 2008, operated by the Gettysburg Foundation on behalf of and in partnership with the National Park Service.

It’s bound to attract scores of newcomers as well as repeat visitors. The park typically attracts 1.2 million visitors a year – a mark that park officials expect to easily exceed.

Margaret Eefsting of Grand Rapids, Mich., returned recently for a weeklong trip to tour the battlefield, just three years after her most recent visit to Gettysburg.

“If it takes me all day, I will cover this battlefield,” she exclaimed as she descended the path in the process of being freshly groomed at Little Round Top. The hill was the site of fierce fighting that gained extra notoriety in the 1993 movie Gettysburg, which was based on the 1974 novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

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