Gettysburg 150: Q&A with GNMP Superintendent Bob Kirby and Gettysburg Foundation president Joanne Hanley
By Greg Pickel on Jul 02, 2013
GETTYSBURG, PA – Bob Kirby and Joanne Hanley have known each other for 15 years and have worked together for over two and a half, but their chemistry would make it seem like decades.
The Superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg Foundation president, respectively, Kirby and Hanley are jointly tasked with making sure the 150th Anniversary of the battles at Gettysburg runs smoothly, something that as of Tuesday has been accomplished with little issue due to plenty of advanced planning.
The two sat down with PCN on the third morning of commemorative events to shed some light on the behind the scenes and tactical planning that took place before the event kicked off, and also highlighted some of the week’s key nuggets, interesting facts, and their own expectations for the re-enactment exercises to be held July 4-7.
PCN: What makes the partnership between the Gettysburg Foundation and GNMP work?
Bob Kirby, Superintendent, GNMP: I think what makes it work so well is a shared mission, and the foundation and Joanne have embraced what the park service is all about. Joanne understands that, and has had a 32 year career in the National Park Service, so she gets it and as good at raising money and getting people in the right places. We get to have resources that other parks don’t get to have.
Joanne Hanley, Gettysburg Foundation: Between Bob and I, our job is to keep the place running at a 10,000 foot level. We talk about strategy, policy, direction, and where we want to go and how things are working. We have shared goals with the park service: we want to serve the visitor, and make sure everyone has the best visit they can have. Our job is to give them the direction, get out of the way, and let them do it.
PCN: What has the visitor response been to the week so far? What have you been hearing from visitors in terms of ease, convenience, and experience?
BK: We anticipated large crowds, but I’m not sure if we anticipated crowds of this size. We tried to facilitate surfing parking to the best of our ability, and even with our most modest concepts, we knew we wouldn’t have adequate parking. I heard yesterday that we had exceeded the capacity in all [parking locations] and people were seeking other venues. I think that’s going to be the issue, and it’s the downside of success. We’ve done all we can and put major money and effort into providing shuttles so that people can leave their cars and reduce the congestion, and I think we’ve been pretty successful. If you look at the downtown quarter, the gridlock is not bad, but the trade-off is all those cars have been parked somewhere.
PCN: What would you tell those coming to town and expecting to have a place to park?
BK: We have other surface area parking, but these are fields, and we’re worried about weather. A dry day, it’s a wonderful place, but we’ve already encountered some wet, soggy places that we’re going to have to suspend those for parking. There are few options- they should get here early if they are really serious about it, and secure a safe, legal parking place, and then hop on a shuttle bus. At some point in time, I just think that we will exceed capacity and some will unfortunately be unable to find a place to park.
PCN: There are no backpacks allowed here at the Visitor Center, and security has been stepped up around the park. Can you detail some the measures that have been taken in that regard?
BK: We put a lot of effort and resources into security, much of which you don’t see. You’ll see uniformed law enforcement presence throughout, and we’ve got a lot of rangers here. We have some plain clothed rangers in the crowd keeping an eye on things, too. We have all been trained in security awareness, and gone through active shooter training. There are all kind of recourses being brought to bear in this instance, and have a lot of resources at play.
JH: One of the thing that the foundation is doing to augment what the Park Service is doing is we hired a security firm to check backpacks. Backpacks are not allowed in, but sometimes people do not know that when they hop on a shuttle, so you’ll see around the entrances to the Visitor Center guards that are checking backpacks, and they get a tag on it to make sure they are clear.
PCN: What other special amenities or features has the foundation provided to augment what the park service has provided?
JH: I think, honestly, from the beginning it’s everything. You can’t separate it. From the very beginning, this whole 10 days were planned seamlessly. You can’t separate this is park service, this is foundation. There are some things, yes, but it’s so seamless and they have to be integrated to make this whole thing work. For me, what makes this partnership so successful is personalities. If you don’t have the right people in place, you don’t have the trust, and it’s not going to work.
PCN: How do you make sure the trade-off between giving visitors what they want and still preserving the presence of the battle field?
BK: That’s the oldest conundrum in the National Park Service. The Organic Act of the National Park Service says to preserve and protect for the benefit and enjoyment of the public, so you cannot preserve and protect unless the public understands what you are doing, and you cannot let the public have access to these resources without having some deleterious effect with all the access we provide. It’s a balancing act, and in some instances, we have to put fences around things or put fragile things in glass cases, but the mere fact that we are putting a artifact in a glass case, it has to have some light on it. Even the light derogates the resource, so we do the best we can in toning down the lumens in the object so that it destroys it at the slowest possible rate while still allowing visible light so people can see it.
PCN: What do the foundations members most look forward to, and tell us some about what it does and how many members there are?
JH: We have about 20,000 members throughout the country, and our members come throughout the year. We have events throughout the year, and some of the events are just for members, but also open to the public. I think one of the benefits of being a member is that it’s only $35 a year, and you can get unlimited access to the museum and visitor center all year long. I think our members love the battlefield, love the history, and they have a relationship with this place. Our goal is to engage people so that they are more than just one time visitors, and then give back through coming and volunteering, where the park has projects they’ve identified that need to be done, and the members want to come and give back.
PCN: Has anything surprised you this week, or stuck out to you as memorable so far?
BK: We anticipate everything, but I don’t know if we adequately measured from the beginning the scale of things. When we went forward, and I put in funding requests to fund some of these things, it was three years ago. I thought I was being expansive in my estimation of it at the time, and the final analysis I missed it by a country mile. It was larger than anticipated, and in 1988, at the 125th, there was great organization but scant participation, and part of that problem was the media message that got out to everybody was that it was going to be gridlocked, and it sent a subtext message to people ‘don’t come.’ We avoided making that statement or alluding to that, and people didn’t get that message [this year.] We also put 1.2 million into an intelligent transportation system, but that’s the thing I think surprised me.
JH: There were a couple of times that really just sent chills up and down my arms. We’re so busy running around, but twice I just stopped, and on Saturday, when we were just getting started, I remember standing out in front of the visitors center, and saw the thousands of people and hundreds of staff, and the excitement and the energy, and it was just positive energy from everybody. We were out on the battlefield for June 30, and I said ‘you have to stop and realize you are a part of history,’ and that’s just a humbling thing.
PCN: What steps have you had to make for the Pickett’s Charge commemorative walk, and what changes will be in effect because of that?
BK: We’re going to shut down West Confederate Avenue from 1-3 p.m., so there will be no traffic going in because we are trying to keep the roads clear because we are bringing in busses that will drop people off. We will have rangers try at 3 p.m. to hold the crowds, and do the best we can to give an interpretive talk. At 3 o’clock, cannon will fire, and we will ahead across the field, and hopefully that will be safely done. When they get to Emmitsburg Road, I’ll have rangers at either end and they will literally stop traffic so this humanity can sweep across to the other side.