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Petersburg Battlefield to grow after decade-long effort

Sen. Tim Kaine came to Petersburg National Battlefield yesterday to see firsthand some of the land that will soon be incorporated into the battlefield.

It was a symbolic victory lap for Kaine, who with other Virginia lawmakers has spent years on legislation that wold expand the battlefield to more than 7,000 acres, tripling its size and making it the largest military park in the nation.

Though the effort took more than a decade, Kaine expressed happiness that the government was able to get it done.

"It is a long process, hearing about this beginning really 10 years ago: sometimes things take too long, but if it's important you stay at it until you get it done."

The acquisition is expected to be officially signed by President Barack Obama in the coming days. The move comes as a result of the National Defense Authorization Act, which was spearheaded by Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner, both Democrats, and was introduced in the house by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and was sponsored by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va. The legislation does not involve federal money, just authorization for the park to be expanded largely through land donations and easements.

Several non-profits, including the Civil War Trust, acquired several important pieces of land that will now be handed over to the National Park Service.

"The Siege of Petersburg was throughout the entire area, there were quite a lot of fortifications." said Superintendent of Petersburg Battlefield Lewis Rogers. "The public will now get an idea of how big the battle was."

Kaine, along with other members of the National Park Service and Civil War Trust toured parts of the existing Petersburg Battlefield yesterday, as well as some of the newly acquired lands at Pamplin Park in Dinwiddie County.

Kaine opened with some remarks about the project, crediting former Sen. Jim Webb for getting project started several years ago, as well as praising the members of the National Park Service and Civil War Trust who helped bring the National Defense Authorization Act to completion. Park Service members then explained the significance of the new lands, and went in-depth about some of the battles that took place on them. Many famous Civil War conflicts erupted during the Siege of Petersburg, such as the Battle of Crater, where Union forces mined underneath confederate lines then blew up the fortifications, creating a hole in the earth that remains there today.

The project to expand the battlefield began back in 2005, but the act did not receive the support it needed until this year. Pamela Goddard of the National Parks Conservation Act noted that it came close in 2012, but was pulled at the last second.

"This took a real effort between the Civil War Trust, and the National Park Service," said Goddard. "All these famous battles that Civil War historians love, they will now be able to learn about them."

Officials from the Tri-Cities area hope that this expansion will make the tourism aspect of the battlefield even more lucrative.

"Over 200,000 visitors come to the battlefield every year,"said Lewis Rogers."It's good for the local economy."

Lewis noted that there was a lot of support from Hopewell, Petersburg, and Colonial Heights for the project.

"[Our history] matters to us here. But just because it matters, doesn't mean you preserve it without trying," Kaine said. "The pressures of development and all kinds of other pressures make it difficult. You've got to figure out strategies: there's good tax credits at the state level: you see these local governments working regionally because they know it's good for tourism."