Written by Rob Nieweg
The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition -- with exceptional work by the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, and Civil War Trust -- has exhausted every effort to protect the historic battlefield and gateway to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.
From the beginning, the preservation coalition’s position has been clear: Wal-Mart and its partners should relocate their large-scale development to another site in Orange County but away from the battlefield and National Park. Ever optimistic, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its allies continue the struggle to protect Wilderness Battlefield. On January 25th, thanks to the coalition’s pro bono law firm Arnold & Porter, the Wilderness Battlefield lawsuit goes to trial in Orange County Circuit Court.
To save the historic landscape, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has pulled out all the stops:
- Local citizens have lobbied Orange County decision-makers to pursue economic development solutions which meet community needs and protect unique and irreplaceable historic resources. In early 2009, for example, the coalition offered to pay for a land-use study to plan for compatible new development at the gateway to the National Park. Orange County rejected our offer of help. As recently as November 2010 the Board of Supervisors shrugged off another opportunity to discuss with preservationists a collaborative resolution of the controversy.
- We have repeated, again and again, that preservationists don’t oppose economic development in Orange County. In fact, heritage destinations like Wilderness Battlefield and James Madison’s Montpelier draw many thousands of visitors to Orange County. Heritage tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry, nationally, that creates jobs, improves quality of life, and builds community pride. That’s one reason why responsible local governments protect and enhance historic properties. (See, for example, The Conservation Fund’s excellent Better Models for Development in Virginia.)
- To strengthen the local campaign for open space conservation and battlefield preservation, the esteemed National Parks Conservation Association, a Wilderness Battlefield Coalition partner, released a persuasive new study in 2010 entitled, “Making Connections: Linking Outdoor Recreation, Open Space, and History at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and Nearby Communities.” NPCA’s report reminds us that this National Park received more than 900,000 recreation visits in 2009, an extraordinary opportunity for local small businesses.
- To ensure that the Superstore proponents understand what’s at stake, the National Trust’s senior leaders met with Wal-Mart’s executives, before the 2009 local vote, on the historic battlefield at the intersection of Routes 3 and 20 and at historic Ellwood, which was recently restored through a private-public partnership. Standing on the battlefield with Wal-Mart, we have gone to great lengths to describe the historic significance of the intersection and of Wal-Mart’s own property, and to explain why preservationists strenuouslyoppose construction of large-scale commercial buildings where such development would harm the battlefield and National Park.
- Thousands of Americans have expressed their own serious concerns directly to Wal-Mart because the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has raised public awareness nationally. The National Trust took the extraordinary step of listing Wilderness Battlefield on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The threatened battlefield also appeared in the Civil War Trust’s “History Under Siege 2010,” the organization’s annual report of endangered Civil War battlefields, as well as Preservation Virginia’s 2009 list of the most endangered historic sites in Virginia.
Wal-Mart certainly is not the “enemy” here. And, although time is very short, the retail giant has the corporate savvy and resources to cancel its current plans, resolve the controversy, and set a new course in Orange County, Virginia.
Rob Nieweg is the director of the Southern Field Office at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Cellular signal permitting, he will be providing twice-daily updates from the trial.