Another battle brews in Gettysburg: park vs. guides
Things are changing around the battlefield in Gettysburg.
A new visitors center is soon to open, meaning the old one will close.
The famed cyclorama is moving. The Electric Map will be crated up and put in storage.
Each proposed change has attracted fresh controversy… .
The most recent fighting has the always helpful and knowledgable licensed battlefield guides against the capable battlefield stewards at the National Park Service. The two groups have differences over the reservation and payment systems for the guides.
The best thing that can be said about all these controversies is that they point to how much that hallowed ground in Adams County means to people.
But it’s time for the fighting in this most recent controversy to stop, and both sides meet under a flag of truce to work things out.
A Hanover Evening Sun/York Daily Record story (1/3/08) on the park/guide conflict follows:
Relations between the National Park Service and the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides have been strained for months, and the arrival of Terry Latschar – Park Supt. John Latschar’s wife – at association meetings has aggravated matters.
Association President Rick Hohmann said the group tried but failed to reach an agreement over a new reservation system with the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg Foundation – the nonprofit organization raising funds for and overseeing the construction of the park’s new visitor center on Hunt Avenue.
In a gesture of good faith, Hohmann said, the guides did not talk to the news media about the association’s negotiations with the park and foundation and postponed planned trips to meet officials in Washington, D.C.
The park failed to reciprocate, Hohmann said, and, soon after, Supt. John Latschar’s wife who is registered as a licensed guide, started attending the association’s business meetings and taking notes.
Hohmann said a copy of the notes of one meeting arrived in his mailbox. He is unsure how they got there but said the notes misquoted him and other guides.
“She also made some very caustic remarks about some of the people that spoke up at the meeting,” Hohmann said.
Terry Latschar previously worked as a licensed battlefield guide before becoming a park ranger, Hohmann said, and it is her right as a member of the organization to attend the meetings.
But he said it would have been good “common sense and decency” to not attend. “The sense among the guides was that her presence was designed to intimidate them,” Hohmann said.
Terry Latschar could not be reached for comment.
But John Latschar laughed at the suggestion that his wife attended the meetings by his design and called it a “conspiracy theory.”
“I can’t comment on her intimidating guides,” Latschar said. “That’s kind of humorous.”
Reservations about reservations
Hohmann said one of many complaints led him to state publicly this week that the association will likely move its headquarters to a property on South Street near Baltimore Street and offer more tours that begin at venues other than the visitor center – though guides would not be prohibited from working there.
He said the association has to approve the move at a meeting later this month before arrangements can be made final, but he expects guides’ approval.
The new location will house the association’s meeting room, library and guide office as well as a storefront.
The core of the conflict, he said, is a reservation and payment system proposed by the Gettysburg Foundation.
The system would allow park visitors to reserve guides by credit card through a Web site but would leave the Gettysburg Foundation holding the guide’s money until a twice-monthly pay period after the tour.
According to the previous system, visitors paid guides in cash at the end of the tour – and that’s how Hohmann likes it.
But he also objects to the lack of a contract with the Gettysburg Foundation.
“They refuse to put anything in writing,” Hohmann said. “This is like dealing with the Gestapo.”
Dru Neil, spokeswoman for the Gettysburg Foundation, said it isn’t the foundation’s place to establish a contract with guides.
“We’re providing the service to both Park Service and the guides,” she said. “Any contractual relationship would need to be between the park and the guides.”
Supt. Latschar said the Park Service does not need a contract with battlefield guides that details how the guides will be paid because the guides’ license agreement already dictates how much they will be paid.
Under the current guide agreement, the superintendent sets the fee.
He likened the arrangement to any employer, which may pay its employees in cash, check or direct deposit.
Regardless of the organization’s relocation, Latschar said, the Park Service would provide – for free – a room in the new visitor center for the guides to use.
“If the association itself wants to spend some of their own money maintaining a headquarters … that’s fine with us,” Latschar said. He said the reservation system at the core of the conflict would not take control away from guides. Instead, he said, it would pair visitors who wanted to schedule a tour with guides scheduled to work during the visitor’s requested time.
Latschar said that would let the Park Service guarantee that visitors can hire a guide. The Park Service previously could tell visitors only to arrive at the park at 8 a.m. and hope for the best, he said.
“The majority, if not a great majority, of the guides have no problem with (the new) system,” Latschar said.
He added that 85 percent of licensed park guides have submitted their schedules for 2008.
But Hohmann said a majority of guides opposed the park’s payment plan on a recent mail-in secret ballot, and an “overwhelming majority” opposed what he called “inefficient scheduling” that he said would result from the system.
He said the association has been working with rival scheduling system Park Trek based at Gateway Gettysburg and will offer tours starting at Gateway, the American Civil War Museum on Steinwehr Avenue or at other locations throughout the area – including most borough hotels.
Hohmann’s complaints about the Park Service extended beyond the current conflict over the reservation system and Latschar’s wife.
He said the Park Service recently doubled guides’ yearly license fee from $180 to $360, while increasing the fee guides earn for conducting 2-hour car tours by just 12.5 percent from $40 to $45.
Latschar also threatened to license more guides if the association didn’t comply with park requests, Hohmann said.
Latschar said the park doubled guides’ license fees between 2005 and 2006 because they had not kept up with the rate of inflation, and business students who studied the park’s financial situation suggested the park increase those fees to cover the cost of administering the guide program.
He said he has suggested licensing additional battlefield guides, but that suggestion was in the spirit of providing enough guides to meet the volume of tours demanded by visitors.
“A classic example is, we always have a shortage of guides who work on Sundays,” Latschar said.
Park officials also expect visitation to jump after the new center opens next spring.
Also of interest:
Rick Hohmann, president of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, works on Little Round Top in 2007. Background posts: Gettysburg Cyclorama gets first full of funds and Gettysburg’s Electric Map blinking in finale season.