Step back in time at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield: It’s a story relevant to yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield draws more than 200,000 visitors annually.

Imagine a time when many of the area’s streets, now lined with homes and businesses, were only fields of farmland that stretched for far as the eye could see.

But just a few miles away from Ozark, Nixa and Springfield you don’t have to imagine that—you can gaze back into time. The fields at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield look the same as when Christian County was born. The same as when the Delaware Native American tribes settled along the creek bank. The same as when two armies battled during the Civil War 150 years ago.

A lot of people in Springfield, when you mention Wilson’s Creek, will go, ‘What?’” said Superintendent Ted Hillmer. “I want people to understand what the importance of this special place…is.”

“A lot of people in Springfield, when you mention Wilson’s Creek, will go, ‘What?’” says Superintendent Ted Hillmer. “I want people to understand what the importance of this special place…is.”

Wilson’s Creek became a part of the National Park Service in April of 1960. The decision came about after much hard work by the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation, a non-profit group that was organized with the sole intention of promoting the battlefield.

“Basically, they started the park. They’re still with us and they’re still helping us out,” says Hillmer. “They’re very important to us.”

The foundation raised the money to purchase the park’s first 37 acres, containing the area known as Bloody Hill, where much of the fighting occurred during the famous battle in 1861.

As years passed, the foundation continued to work and raise additional funds to improve and increase the park. With help from the Missouri legislature, 1,700 more acres were eventually obtained and, on Aug. 10, 1961, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield was dedicated on the historic battle’s 100-year anniversary. Today the park draws more than 200,000 visitors annually.

In tough economic times, visiting Wilson’s Creek provides low-cost recreational and educational opportunities. The park’s admission cost $5 a person or $10 for a family. All the money collected goes back into the park. Annual passes are also available for $20.

For history buffs, the park allows visitors to see the sites of Wilson’s Creek along a 4.9-mile paved tour road accessible either by car, bicycle or on foot; stops along the road include things such as the Ray House, the Gibson Mill site and the infamous Bloody Hill.

The Wilson’s Creek Visitor Center also provides a variety of options. In addition to numerous displays, a research library and a gift shop, the center features an interactive map depicting the progression of the battle of Wilson’s Creek as well as 30-minute film focusing on the battle as well as the history behind it. The film, not yet for sale, is one of the center’s most recent achievements and was created about a year ago after the foundation donated approximately $100,000 toward its production, replacing the previous film created in the 1970s.

“One of the main things that we try to do for visitors is orientate them to the park,” Hillmer says. “The film is usually that first place.”

Some of the preparation work for the film was done at Nixa High School, where students were asked what elements they thought should be considered when creating the new film. One of the students suggested including celebrities and that ultimately led to the film’s narration by nationally-known historian Ken Burns.

“We tried to listen to the kids to make the film relevant to them,” Hillmer says. “I think we did a pretty good job.”

With a nod to its military significance, Wilson’s Creek is still utilized for military staff rides where military personnel-in-training learn about the various tactics that were used during the battle.

Hillmer said there are occasions where various tactics, like the use of electronics, aren’t possible and it becomes valuable to understand how soldiers communicated in the past.

“They had to think about how to communicate between each other…all these different tactics we still talk about today were done without (the use of electronics),” Hillmer says. “They are still learning from an old Civil War site.”

Wilson’s Creek plays important historical roles on local and national levels and it is up to the public to keep the park relevant for years to come.

To foster understanding, the park welcomes many school children on field trips. This year more than 7,000 students visited and learned more about the battlefield. Visiting youngsters are also encouraged to participate in the Junior Ranger program where, after completing a booklet of activities, children are awarded a badge and certificate.

“We have them out here because we want to plant those seeds,” Hillmer says. “So maybe, some of those kids will say, ‘Hey, this is important, I was out there and we need to protect these special places.’”

All that Wilson’s Creek has to offer comes down to one central idea: To raise awareness about the site’s history and to encourage people to visit the park.

Walt Disney had it right…he started by telling stories,”Hillmer said. “If you can grab the person’s imagination, they can hear about the story and get excited about what happened here.”

“Walt Disney had it right…he started by telling stories,” Hillmer says. “If you can grab the person’s imagination, they can hear about the story and get excited about what happened here.”

Want to visit?

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (6424 West Farm Road 182, Republic; ) is open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. For more information, visit the battlefield’s website.

This article was published in the Christian County Headliner News on Sept. 12, 2009.