If you are like me, you rarely make it to Arkansas. It is a place that has plenty of things that I would enjoy, but it has so far evaded me. Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge battlefields are the homes of the two major battles that occurred in Arkansas during the war. It has also occurred to me that quite a few people do not have any idea that there are such pristine Civil War battlefields that need our visits and support. I have enjoyed the Friends of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park on Instagram for several months now, and since we have been conducting Q&A's with several sites, I reached out. Park Interpreter Kylee Cole was kind enough to answer some questions to hopefully bring more awareness to this important site.
What preservation goal(s) is the Friends of PGBSP trying to accomplish?
The Friends of PGBSP provide the “boots on the ground” support for preservation and battlefield restoration projects. Ultimately, our largest preservation goal is to maintain the original 1862 Prairie Grove Battlefield and interpret an inclusive understanding of the battle and its effects on the Civil War in AR and the people who called northwest Arkansas home. By the end of this year, the park will preserve over 1,000 acres of the original battlefield. The Friends assist in restoration projects (modern fence/infrastructure removal, historic viewsheds, etc.), vegetation/natural resource management (invasive species removal, native species planting, general groundskeeping), and collections management projects (collections inventories, artifact identification).
Where is your audience, meaning those you “advertise” to, as well as supporters, located? (not necessarily advertise, but who and how do you reach out to people?)
We focus on bringing in local volunteers, ideally those from the Prairie Grove community. However, our outreach extends to much of northwest Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. We have school groups from throughout the area that regularly visit for field trips. I also promote activities and service opportunities with old school flyers (haha) to Prairie Grove, Lincoln, Farmington, and Fayetteville. Our online presence (Facebook and Instagram) is national – we advertise the page in the museum and people keep up with us beyond their trip to the park. We are increasingly trying to advertise to more diverse and younger audiences.
What successes have the Friends of PGBSP seen in the past? (more recent projects)
Restoration of 2 acres in the main interpretive area
Enthusiastic interpretive support for annual day camps, seasonal tea parties, artillery demonstrations, and biennial reenactments
Complete inventory of all bullets in the PGBSP collection (identification underway) – we do not have a collections manager/curator so this is a HUGE accomplishment and big help to staff
What does future success look like for the Friends?
(as mentioned above) . Our friends group is interesting. A formal group was established in 1993, but since then has dwindled. There is no volunteer-led organization of the group since the support has been very limited especially in the past few years (we have around 7 regular volunteers, 3 who dedicate set hours to service projects each week). This means I, as park staff, coordinate all volunteers through the group. Volunteers supply digital content in addition to the work at the park. One of my main goals is to get the Friends group back to its former glory. We are slowly building back a dedicated volunteer base. Future success would mean a dedicated group of self-motivated volunteers that see the potential in the park and believe in PGBSP’s mission. This would allow the group to operate more in the spirit of a true Friends group – and save staff time with volunteer coordination.
How does historic preservation benefit the larger community surrounding Prairie Grove?
Northwest Arkansas is seeing massive population growth and historic resources (landscapes, buildings, viewsheds, etc.) are under increasing pressure from development. Historic preservation in areas of exponential growth, like northwest Arkansas, provides a sense of place and a sense of time to visitors and residents. Preserved historic resources serve as connections to a shared past that unite communities. Historic preservation also has economic benefits. For example, downtown revitalization assists small business owners and brings money back into the community. PGBSP is located in close proximity to the growing downtown Prairie Grove commercial district so visitors come to the park and then go downtown to shop, eat, and support local business.
I have always been a believer in sharing best practices among organizations - what are some ideas that Friends of PGBSP has used in the past to increase support to, or awareness of, the organization?
To diversify our support and bring in a younger, more active base we are increasingly relying on social media. This has been very successful!
How can an individual donate or join the Friends of PGBSP?
Call the park at 479-846-2990 and ask for Kylee. I serve as the volunteer coordinator for the group and work to match individuals and groups with service projects that meet their interests and the parks needs. Monetary donations can be sent to the park: Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park 506 E. Douglas St. Prairie Grove, AR 72753. The group also has a wishlist of items that I can provide for donors to purchase directly.
Why should someone visit Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park?
Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park is one of the most important Civil War conflicts in AR and arguably in the Trans-Mississippi theater. There is still so much to discover at this place as archaeologists and historians continue to find new things that change the way we interpret the battle, and its larger implications. When you stand on the fields of Prairie Grove, you are standing on one of the most well-preserved battlefields in the country, and can literally be part of history.
If you are interested in following Prairie Grove State Battlefield on social media, check them out these platforms:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/prairiegrovebattlefield/ (@prairiegrovebattlefield)
Also, if you are able to support them, get in touch with Kylee by contacting her through the avenues posted above!
Cover image: "The Bayonet or Retreat" by Andy Thomas