First things first, let's set the record straight - the Battle of Buffington Island should be called the Battle of Portland or Portland Bottoms, because the battle did not take place on Buffington Island proper, but instead was fought in the area known as Portland Bottoms, as well as around the small Ohio River town of Portland. The bottoms are an area of flat ground that the Ohio River diverged away from many centuries ago, leaving behind a rich soil. The soil is wonderful for farming, and many family names present in 1863 are still farming these lands. But I digress.
I have been newly elected to serve as vice-chair for the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation (referenced as BIBPF going forward because that name is too long to keep typing repeatedly). My main duties are sitting in as the orchestrator when the chair cannot attend our board meetings. Yeah, it is a tough job, but someone has to do it. One thing I am doing is recruiting new board members, so I suckered - um, I mean recruited - our own Western Theater in the Civil War website creator to serve on the board, as well as asked the Uniformed Historian to participate as well, to give us both Kentucky and West Virginia representation on the board, which had been filled by a slew of Buckeyes, heaven forbid.
Shameless Plea - Still looking for one or two more good people with an interest in helping a non-profit based on southeastern Ohio. Email the BIBPF at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you with details!
Serving on a "friends group" board has its rewards and frustrations which I am sure some of you can relate with your own service in related organizations. Personally, I have an issue with being patient when a good idea is on the table and we do not move forward on it in a timely fashion - get it done (when it makes sense) is more my mindset. The new BIBPF board elected for 2021 I believe we move a bit faster now that we have more board members in place to help do some of the work needed for progress. Also, historically as a whole we have not done a great job keeping communication flowing between board meetings, which leads to the board talking about the same items that were discussed in previous meetings. Time wasters. To me a board meeting should be a quick review of outstanding items, discussion about new business, and takeaways to work on betwixt meetings. Oh, and beer...beer after (or maybe during) a board meeting is always a good thing and for me a borderline requirement to serve in such a capacity. I am happy to mention that recently the lines of communication have been opening more and more between meetings, so we are learning to move forward without having to wait for the next board gathering.
One important thing when working within a friends group...every volunteer, member, and board member serves their own interests and passions. This at times causes diametrically opposed viewpoints and can stymie progress. Any board has to learn to understand the motivations of its membership in order to work together for solutions. In my own case, I am about decision making, getting more interpretation in place, and launching more events. Preserving land comes along with educating the public and the various landowners about the stories from the battle. We install more signs, we add a story to that parcel. We host an event, it allows us to educate those who in turn may become members. But working with different perspectives allows me to learn the motivations of other members, and we always need to keep the passions for the BIBPF at a high level. So, while I may not agree with a point of view or an idea, as a board member I need to help find a way to keep that person engaged and work to find reasonable ways to accommodate their passion.
The BIBPF has many needs, which I am sure is reflected in nearly all battlefield friends groups, except maybe the group that supports that insignificant small college town in south-central Pennsylvania (an homage to one National Park Historian, the almighty Ogden). We do not have enough funds, enough volunteers, enough members, etc., etc. However, we are pushing forward in 2021 with efforts to increase membership which in turn creates more volunteers and more incoming funds from membership fees.
We have raised funds to install signs at the four known hospital locations, hence increasing interpretation of the battlefield. Those signs will hopefully be in place by spring. We will be raising money to install battlefield "preserve" signs so that when visitors come into the Portland Bottoms area they will have an idea of just how far the boundaries of the battlefield extend (over 1,200 acres in size, nearly 5,000 combatants, with infantry, artillery, cavalry, and naval forces all present). We have reduced membership fees to make our organization one of the most affordable friends groups out there (so go join NOW and then come back to finish reading this post). We are working to establish relationships with various related sites to (hopefully) allow our members to visit those sites at a reduced cost, increasing the benefits our members receive. We will be hosting our first American Battlefield Trust Park Day event to build rapport at the local level while helping to clean up the memorial park at Buffington Island. We are in the starting phases of developing a speaker series as part of our education mission. We have an online store on Teespring to sell logo gear as a fundraising effort. We have added more social media focus by launching both an Instagram account, as well as a LinkedIn presence (we have been on Facebook for some time now). We are also creating a quarterly newsletter for our members, something long overdue. But to do all these tasks and do them well, we do need a few more volunteers to assist.
There are so many choices out there when one is deciding just which organizations to support, and let's be honest, we all have to live within a budget, large or small. But if you are from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, or West Virginia, know that there were men from each of those states present at the battle, and perhaps consider throwing ten bucks our way, and we will make sure it is used for our mission of Preservation, Interpretation, and Education, and who doesn't like PIE? By the way, if you do not live in one of those aforementioned states, your money is still good with us, and highly appreciated!
In summary, we will be progressing in 2021, adding interpretation, building relationships, hosting events, and always keeping an eye on land preservation in the Bottoms.
The title of this post is not intended to infer that serving on the board of BIBPF is like herding cats, but we have all probably served on a board or tried to organize volunteers and it can be frustrating at times. The folks I have had the fortune of working with in the BIBPF are all passionate about the Battle of Portland Bottoms...er, I mean Buffington Island...and I am honored to be serving as a board member with them.