Service at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14089B, Service/ Volunteer


  • Assist with restoration and maintenance of the battlefield and historic farmsteads, and restoration of historic landscapes
  • Learn Civil War history from park rangers and re-enactors
  • Hike the C&O Canal Towpath, visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, or visit Harpers Ferry on our day off


  • Lodging in woodland cabins with bunk beds (linens, blankets, pillows included)
  • Cafeteria-style meals, with vegetarian options available
  • Speaker fees


DatesSep 14–20, 2014
StaffSuzanne Valencia

Trip Overview

The Trip

Antietam National Battlefield has many historic farmhouse buildings that were involved in the September 17, 1862 battle here. The work of maintaining and restoring the old buildings will continue to be the focus of our work in years to come.

However, the week will not be all work and no play. To begin with, we will be housed in rustic cabins in the woods at the Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center, which is located just 1.5 hours west of Washington, D.C. The cabins are centered around a large beautiful pavilion with a fireplace and an unending supply of firewood. The center is situated on 220 acres of rolling, wooded land along the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath, which follows the winding Potomac River.

Just a few miles from the retreat center is the Antietam National Battlefield, which commemorates a fierce battle between Union and Confederate soldiers. On these 12 square miles was the bloodiest day of the Civil War, September 17, 1862. During this single day, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing, with neither side able to declare a decisive victory. This battlefield will be our work site.

Less than ten miles south of Antietam is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Probably best-known from our years-ago history classes is the story of abolitionist John Brown's raid on the United States Armory and Arsenal in October 1859. His attempt to arm an uprising of slaves ended with his capture and conviction for "conspiring with slaves to commit treason and murder." Despite Brown's failure to arm the slaves, his trial and execution served to focus the nation's attention on the moral issue of slavery and led the country toward Civil War. 

The Project

As with all of our national parks, refuges, and forests, the Antietam National Battlefield is always in need of work to maintain its grounds and structures. Our work is very much appreciated by the park staff because they always have more work than park staff alone could ever complete. Our last 10 trips have focused on restoration work: building and repairing fences and gates, constructing a  workshop in the corn crib at the Poffenberger Farm, cleaning historic buildings, whitewashing structures, working to restore a 1700s log cabin, and painting cannons. It is likely that we will be involved in landscape restoration activities, such as building, repairing, or painting fences, and planting historic plant species. Our work could also include painting or whitewashing the interior or exterior of the historic buildings. Due to budget shortfalls, the Antietam National Battlefield has combined the Departments of Cultural Resources and Natural Resources into the Department of Resource Management. On our trip in September 2013, we worked for the first time with a person from Natural Resources. This was a real departure from our work with historic structures. The work consisted of removing exotic non-native plants from an area that will be transformed into a native habitat. A planting program was to follow after we left, so we may be able to see the results when we return. We will let the staff determine their greatest needs -- as always, Sierra Club volunteers are willing and able to do what is necessary.


Day 1: We will gather at 4 p.m. for introductions, orientation, and settling into our cabins before dinner at 6 p.m. We will go over our week's schedule and the possibilities of after-work and day-off activities. We will also get our day packs ready, including water, medical forms (the leader will give you a copy of yours), a personal first-aid kit, any medications you may need for the day, a camera, flower and/or bird books, gloves, and anything else you need for a day away from "home."

Day 2: We'll start with breakfast in the cafeteria at 7:30 a.m. Because we are in a cafeteria-style setting, all we will need to do after eating is bus our own tables. The Center does worm composting, so there are bins for worm-edible items and signs that explain what goes where. The park service will expect to see us around 8:15 a.m. We can caravan to the battlefield, a short five miles away. Lunch will be delivered to us by the retreat center at noon. After we eat, one of the park staff may speak to us on any number of topics -- maybe the story of the battle that ensued near our work site that day, how research is done to recreate the landscape as it was on the day of the battle, or the role of volunteers in park service projects. Work for the day will end around 3:00 p.m. at which time we will meet an interpretive ranger at the visitors' center who will talk about the battles or maybe about the artillery on the battlefield. You will be free until 6 p.m. dinner, which gives you enough time to further explore the battlefield, visit the gift shop, walk the C&O Towpath or one of the trails through the center's property, or just relax.

Day 3: We will follow the same routine as on day two: breakfast at 7:30 a.m., start work at 8:15 a.m., finish work at 3 p.m., with free time until our 6 p.m. dinner. We can show you the Nutters ice cream store in Sharpsburg -- great ice cream at super-cheap prices! Or maybe you would like to visit Burkholders, a wonderful Mennonite bakery.

Day 4: Our day off! After breakfast at 7:30 a.m., you are free to do any excursion that suits your fancy. You will be asked to "sign off" the trip as your leader will not be responsible for you on that day.

Day 5: Another great work day, beginning with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., then meeting our Cultural Resources staff at 8:15 a.m., and working until 3 p.m. You are free until dinner time at 6 p.m. The leader expects to have the Civil War re-enactors in authentic battle gear tell us what their days were like during the war.

Day 6: We'll continue with more work, with the same schedule as above. We will have an evening wrap-up around the pavilion fireplace. S'mores, anyone?

Day 7: After breakfast, we'll say our sad goodbyes.



Getting There

If flying:
Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) and Dulles International Airport (IAD) are each about 1.5 hours from Shepherd's Spring. If you are flying, you can "MapQuest" the directions or email the leader for more complete details. It has been suggested that BWI may have less traffic congestion than Washington, D.C. A roster of the trip participants will be sent to you before the trip so you may be able to coordinate with others to share a rental car. It is your responsibility to get to Shepherd’s Spring.

If driving:
From I-70 east or west, take exit 29, MD 65 SOUTH toward Sharpsburg. Drive 7.5 miles to Taylors Landing Road and turn RIGHT (west). Follow Taylors Landing Road 2.3 miles to the Center's entrance on the left.

From I-81 north or south, take exit 1 and go east on MD 68 until you come to MD 65. Turn RIGHT (south) and drive 3.5 miles. Turn RIGHT (west) onto Taylors Landing Road and go 2.3 miles to the Center's entrance on the left. 

Accommodations and Food

The Shepherd's Retreat Center has a main building that houses the administration offices, meeting rooms, motel-like rooms, and cafeteria. We will be lodged in the "Seasonal Village" -- woodland cabins in a rustic, natural setting. The seven cabins -- each with a restroom, shower, and bunk beds -- surround an open-air pavilion and a campfire circle. We will have the Village all to ourselves, which means that we will be able to spread out and no one will need to climb into a top bunk. It is a pleasant 10-minute walk to the main building where we will eat, or a few minutes to the C&O Canal Towpath. Meals are served cafeteria-style and include a great salad bar. Vegetarian options are available if requested. We will not need to pack lunches as they will be delivered to us in the field. 

Trip Difficulty

Antietam National Battlefield is located a short distance (driving, not walking) from the retreat center. The land on the battlefield is quite level so we don't have to worry about altitude gain. The work should be only moderately strenuous. However, everyone will be encouraged to work to the level of his or her ability and endurance, and to take water and/or shade breaks when necessary. The trip leader's primary concern is for the group to work safely, then to have fun doing it, and lastly, to accomplish a good job.

Equipment and Clothing

We will be housed in cabins with the linens provided, so no camping gear is needed. You will need work clothes that may get stained, torn, or paint-splattered; no fashion plates need apply. Thrift stores are good places to get work clothes that you don’t need to worry about. After-work and/or day-off clothes can be anything in which you are comfortable. You will need a simple day pack for carrying water, hat, sunscreen, personal first-aid kit, camera, and whatever else you need to be comfortable for the day. A complete equipment list will be sent closer to the time of the trip.


The leader encourages you to check out the following:


Your volunteer leaders have a long-term dedication to the Sierra Club mission -- "to explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth." We hope to impart to you some of our love for this area and for the work of the Sierra Club. We believe that the Sierra Club's outings program provides an excellent opportunity for members to enjoy the fruits of past conservation victories and to learn about current concerns. While on this trip, we expect you to share the local conservation issues from your area. Above all, we will have discussions on what each and every one of us can do to lessen our impact on the earth. Be prepared! The leader has a check list of things that she does and that other participants have added to. Let's see if you can match them!

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Suzanne Valencia has been leading local group outings since 1992 and went on her first national Sierra Club trip in 1997. Her love of the out of doors led her to becoming a national leader herself. She has led over 55 trips since 2001, from Florida to Colorado, New Mexico, California, Maryland, and Utah. Most of these were service trips. She loves sharing the wilderness experience with others and especially working to help in the National Parks and Refuges

Assistant Leader:

Gretchen Straw is a long-time Sierra Club member who has participated in multiple service trips, from Antietam to Puerto Rico. She assists on service trips helping to build the Pine Mountain Trail each fall; this trail is a segment of the Great Eastern Trail, a new long-distance trail paralleling the Appalachian Trail. Gretchen is an avid hiker and long-distance walker, recently completing the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Contact the Staff

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture.
Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.

Other Dates

Try Another Trip

By Date