Written by Robert Nieweg
Wal-Mart continues to pursue its flawed plan to build a “Superstore” within the boundaries of the 1864 Wilderness Battlefield and just across the roadway from the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Wal-Mart’s 140,000-square foot big-box would permanently harm the battlefield, frustrate private-public initiatives to preserve the battlefield and restore 1864’s open viewscapes, and undermine the visitor's experience of the National Park. Critically, Wal-Mart would facilitate more large-scale commercial development.
Preservationists are asking Wal-Mart to relocate its store to another location in Orange County, VA – away from the historic battlefield and National Park. However, on May 21, 2009, Wal-Mart’s proposal is likely to be heard by the Orange County Planning Board.
Here is an update on advocacy to save Wilderness Battlefield:
- Historian James McPherson published a thoughtful opinion piece in the May 3, 2009, edition of the Washington Post observing: “There is still time for Wal-Mart to recognize its error and identify another location. This week marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, a perfect opportunity to seek a solution in everyone's best interests. The Wilderness Battlefield is a living memorial to American sacrifice and heroism. It would be tragic if such a landmark was lost through the short-sightedness of local decision-makers and Wal-Mart's stubborn refusal to consider reasonable alternatives.
- Actor Robert Duvall, Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) convened a press event at the National Park on May 4, 2009, to raise awareness of Wilderness Wal-Mart. In February 2009, Congressman Welch and Congressman Poe wrote to Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott, stating: “There are countless other locations your company could consider for a more responsibly sited development in this region. We feel the definition of corporate responsibility must always extend to respecting storied lands and respecting a community’s natural landscape and surroundings when choosing a site for a store. Those values should not be eroded for the sake of commercial gain.”
- On May 4th, Mr. Duvall said: “The Wal-Mart Corporation has within its power to be a savior of the Wilderness battlefield. Simply by moving to an alternate location slightly farther from the battlefield, they have the ability to protect this critical piece of American history.”
- The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Wilderness Battlefield Coalition have offered to pay for a land-use planning study to balance preservation and sustainable economic development at this vulnerable site. To their credit, one of Orange County’s major private property owners has joined us to endorse the preservationists’ land-use planning process. However, the Orange County Board of Supervisors dismissed our offer of assistance as a “ruse” to delay Wal-Mart.
- Once again, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star editorialized on April 21, 2009, in support of battlefield preservation and land-use planning, observing: “Those sharp retorts heard recently from the direction of the Wilderness Battlefield were the sounds of Orange County supervisors shooting down a proposed planning study for the county’s eastern gateway. Alas, their shortsightedness made them miss the target altogether. … That’s a classic ‘ready fire aim’ view. Because once the big-box store is planted, others will sprout up, and the chance to ‘plan’ obviated. … Rejecting the reasonable request of the Wilderness Coalition is foolish. Orange supervisors should rethink their position. The target of the public good still stands. Only they can hit it.”
Please join thousands of Americans by signing the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s petition to protect historic Wilderness Battlefield.
Robert Nieweg is the Director of the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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