SHARPSBURG, MD. -- When Washington County Commissioner Richard Roulette proposed a scenic buffer zone around Antietam National Battlefield more than a year ago, he thought it would help resolve a feud between local preservationists and developers.

But some members of an advisory committee trying to set up the buffer zone say now that it might be a wasted effort unless the National Park Service takes steps to preserve unprotected parcels inside the park's boundaries.

The battlefield site encompasses 3,200 acres inside a congressionally approved boundary line, commonly called the "take line." The park owns about 800 acres and has purchased scenic easements on 1,200 acres.

"It's important that we make sure we do a good job and that everything is considered, and that includes first and foremost that the park is protected within its own boundaries," said Doug Bast, a member of the South County Citizens Advisory Committee and vice president of the county's historical society.

Some members of the citizens advisory group are worried about the 1,200 unprotected acres, including "the cornfield," where more than half of the casualties occurred during the Battle of Antietam in September 1862.

In three hours on Sept. 17, 1862, more than 12,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in the field, owned by Paul M. Culler. A tourist information marker at the site reads: "Those three hours may encompass the most concentrated fury in American history."

"I always knew there were some areas that were left open, but I personally didn't realize there were significant areas that weren't protected, like the cornfield," said Roulette, chairman of the committee. "There's no scenic easements there. It's not owned by the National Park Service. It's completely unprotected."

In the eyes of some local preservationists, the cornfield is a disaster waiting to happen. Although Culler said he had no plans to develop his land, Civil War buffs fear the unthinkable: The property could be sold and subdivided for homes or businesses, forever ruining one of the battlefield's most significant sites.

Park officials have knocked on Culler's door several times in the past three decades in an attempt to get scenic easements on the ground that the 79-year-old semiretired farmer has owned since the early 1950s. Culler has listened to and declined all of the agency's proposals.

In 1976, he refused the Park Service's offer of nearly $100,000, which is 30 percent of the farm's appraised value. Culler said he did not want to sell scenic easements on the land because he feared that future property owners would have to abide by easement restrictions and would not be willing to pay full price for the 142-acre farm.

Park Superintendent Richard Rambur said the Park Service would act quickly to halt any threats to the park's historical integrity, by negotiating with a property owner for a scenic easement, or, as a last resort, through condemnation.

"I just feel so assured that if someone ever tried to come in here and build homes or put up a {convenience} store, that the National Park Service would move in. I'm sure of that," Rambur said.

Rambur said the park agency had not moved more quickly to obtain scenic easements in the past because there have been few threats of development and because most of the privately owned properties were owned by farmers who said they planned to continue farming. Also, federal money for scenic easements is scarce, and Antietam competes with other parks for the funding, Rambur said.

Rambur said he recently met with regional park agency officials, who pledged their commitment to completing the scenic easement program at Antietam. Rambur said that in the next few weeks he will learn how much money will be authorized for the program.

The Antietam federal park near Sharpsburg has long been noted as the most pristine Civil War battlefield in the Northeast, and perhaps the United States. Unlike other Civil War battlefield sites, most of the landscape at Antietam remains unchanged since the end of the battle.

Dennis Frye, president of Save Historic Antietam Foundation, a local advocacy group in southern Washington County, said he thought that the county's citizens advisory committee not only should establish a buffer zone around the battlefield but also should consider restrictions inside the park's boundary.