American Battlefield Trust, Shenandoah University Honored for Work at Virginia's Cool Spring Battlefield

Wingate Mackay-Smith Clarke County Land Conservation Award recognizes the partnership that transformed a former golf course into a battlefield park and an outdoor classroom

Mary Koik, (202) 367-1861 x7231

(Washington, D.C.) — The American Battlefield Trust and Shenandoah University were recently honored with the 2020 Wingate Mackay-Smith Clarke County Land Conservation Award for a partnership that transformed a former golf course into a battlefield park and outdoor university classroom. 

The award from the county Conservation Easement Authority recognizes the preservation and stewardship of the Cool Spring Battlefield. The site along the Shenandoah River is now protected from development and is an enriching learning space for Shenandoah University while the park has become unparalleled community resource, especially in this past year as residents sought outdoor space for socially distanced recreation.   

Sunset over the Shenandoah River at Cool Springs Battlefield, Clarke County, Va.
Sunset over the Shenandoah River at Cool Spring Battlefield, Clarke County, Va. Matt Brant

“Cool Spring is a remarkable landscape, simultaneously significant in both historic and ecological contexts,” said Trust President David Duncan. “We often speak of a protected battlefield’s landscape to function as an outdoor classroom, but nowhere has this been more fully realized than on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Clarke County.”  

The site was protected through a public-private partnership between the Trust and Shenandoah University that began 2011. Once home to the Virginia National Golf Club, the Trust secured the 195-acre property using member donations and matching grants from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program and the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund to finance the $2 million purchase price.  

During a 2013 celebration, ownership of the site was turned over to Shenandoah University, which integrated the land’s crucial role in the July 18, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring and its 10,000 linear feet of frontage on the Shenandoah River into a hands-on learning venue for students. Thanks to a perpetual conservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the site will remain forever pristine and free of inappropriate development. 

Today, the Shenandoah River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield supports several university departments and activities. Classes in the environmental studies, outdoor leadership, and history programs investigate the property’s history and ecology and develop leadership skills, while students, faculty, staff and administrators all visit the River Campus for meetings, recreation, team building, and inspiration. Students pursue both interpretation of the battlefield and research into native habitats and water quality.   

With hiking and biking trails, as well as river access, recreational opportunities are legion — both for students and the general public, which is welcomed to the site daily. Cool Spring park is now a local destination for walking, biking, bird watching and other wildlife observation. Commonly seen creatures include bald eagles, cormorants, red-winged blackbirds, a nesting colony of great blue heron, bats, a dozen species of turtles, red foxes, muskrats, deer and beavers. Notable flora include large swaths of Virginia bluebells, century-old giant sycamores, silver maples, box elders and the rare bur oak. 

Tom Gilmore accepts award on Trust's behalf
The Trust's Chief Land Preservation Officer Tom Gilmore (left) accepts the award on the organization's behalf. American Battlefield Trust

“Shenandoah University is conscious that we are the stewards of a remarkable resource at Cool Spring and take that responsibility quite seriously,” said Jonathan Noyalas, director of Shenandoah University's McCormick Civil War Institute. “We have the opportunity to build a true heritage tourism destination and train the next generation of historians with real-world experience using Cool Spring’s rich historical landscape.”  

“The permanent stewardship of this property by Shenandoah University was an ideal outcome for the property,” said Trust Chief Land Preservation Officer Tom Gilmore, who accepted the award on the organization’s behalf. “We frequently cite this partnership as a model we seek to replicate across the country.” 

Clarke County’s Conservation Easement Authority was established in 2002 to protect and preserve local agricultural, natural, recreational, and historic land. In 2015, the CEA created the Wingate Mackay-Smith Clarke County Land Conservation Award as a way of honoring and drawing attention to organizations and individuals for their work in protecting open spaces in the county. Today, with the help of the CEA, American Battlefield Trust, Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and other organizations, 25 percent of Clarke County has been protected by preservation or conservation easement. 

The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today.  The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 53,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War. Learn more at