Archive for February, 2009

As the article in the Free Lance-Star reports, “It’s officially bipartisan now.”  A Democratic Congressman from Vermont and a Republican Congressman from Texas have jointly sent a letter to Walmart’s CEO Michael Duke urging Walmart to not build their supercenter at the Wilderness Battlefield.

North and South agree, Democrat and Republican agree, but why is Walmart still refusing to even look at less historic sites in Orange County for their new store?  It would seem likely that a Walmart a couple miles away would be just as profitable as the one they are trying to build at the Wilderness, and they would not have to deal with the headache of a vocal opposition to their plans.  All along the refrain has been that a Walmart in Orange County is fine, just not a Walmart at such a historic location.  So far the cries have fallen on deaf ears at Walmart, but hopefully the opinions of two members of Congress might speak a little louder.

This is yet another great example of how important this site is to the entire not country, not just to Orange County.  The Orange County Board of Supervisors have the responsibility to protect the battlefield so that visitors from across the country, both today and for future generations, can visit, learn from and enjoy the battlefield as it was meant to be experienced.

Hopefully Walmart will get the message soon and move their new supercenter to a less controversial, less historic, but equally profitable location in the county.

You can read the letter to Walmart here.


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A terrific editorial appeared in The Carolinian, from Greensboro, N.C., this Tuesday that added another voice to the growing opposition against building a Walmart at the Wilderness.  The article, entitled “Walmart vs. Civil War,” points out the importance of history to our country and how important it is that we have a real connection to our shared past.  Unfortunately, when a Walmart or other reckless development destroys a piece of that history it is gone forever, which is happening more and more each day.  Walmart was respectful enough to move a planned store away from George Washington’s boyhood home at Ferry Farm, and we hope they will realize how damaging this store will be to the Wilderness Battlefield and relocate their supercenter farther up Route 3.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation also has an update on the Walmart situation posted to their website.  The Wilderness Walmart update outlines some of the ongoing advocacy efforts taking place to keep Walmart away from the Wilderness and also allows readers to sign a petition urging Walmart to relocate its store to less historic ground.

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Walmart recently released the details of a poll they conducted in January of registered voters in Orange County.  On the surface, and according to the article in the Free Lance-Star on the survey, the results are extremely favorable to Walmart, which is not terribly surprising considering Walmart paid for the survey.  However, the poll results are lacking significant details that need to be addressed if this poll is to be taken a legitimate snapshot of the opinions of Orange County residents.

  • The article specifically mentions that a margin of error was not reported.  You cannot have a scientific poll without providing for a margin of error since it is critical to interpreting the poll’s results.
  • The survey contacted 300 registered voters in Orange County, but it provides no other details on the poll respondents.  Was it a random sample?  If not, then, again, the poll is not scientifically accurate.  Where do the 300 people live?  Was it only Lake of the Woods?  Was it the entire county?  Again, this information is vital to understanding the nature of the poll and its results.  Demographics need to be provided as well.
  • Did the survey include what is probably the most important question and is central to the whole argument – would you support moving the Walmart to a less historically significant location?  This question was most likely not asked of the respondents even though it is probably the most important question to help determine if a compromise solution would be supported.  Walmart should release the questions asked during the poll so the general public has a chance to see if they were misleading in any way or if any critical questions, like the one above, were omitted.
  • The survey claims that 70% of respondents believe the store would not be visible from the battlefield, yet Walmart has not even conducted a viewshed analysis or sight tests yet to determine if this is accurate.  The tests will show if it will be visible or not, so it’s not really relevant if people “think” it will be visible when all of the details have yet to be submitted.
  • Finally, did the survey ask if respondents support all of the additional development that will follow on Walmart’s heels?  The Walmart property alone has room for up to nine additional retail sites.

Walmart needs to disclose the full details of their survey, specifically the questions asked and the scientific data that a truly accurate poll requires.  Until then, this poll should be seen as nothing more than a tool to help Walmart further destroy the gateway to a National Park Service battlefield.

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“Battlefields can’t be moved.  Big boxes can.”

An editorial in today’s Free Lance-Star nails the argument perfectly.  There are several appropriate locations in Orange County for a Walmart, but only one Wilderness Battlefield.  So why has the big box retailer dug its heels in on this one location as the only location?  It’s hard to say, but the Free Lance-Star gets it absolutely right.

All along, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition and concerned citizens have said that they are not opposed to a Walmart in Orange County, but they are opposed to a Walmart (or any other big box store) at that location.  It seems the perfect compromise solution is for Walmart to move their supercenter to a less historic location.  If Walmart moved, then Orange County gets its tax revenue and jobs, preservationists maintain the sanctity of the Wilderness Battlefield and local residents still get the shopping options provided by Walmart.

So, again, why does Walmart refuse to look at other options?  Whose interests do they have at heart?

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Ellwood was open on Valentine’s Day for a special event hosted by Friends of Wilderness Battlefield and staged in conjunction with the “I Love Fred-Spot” festivities celebrating the national park’s birthday.  It was a great event that put the renovated plantation home on display for visitors along with costumed interpreters and Civil War period music.  Interpreters shared stories and letters about Ellwood, the Wilderness and life during the Civil War from the people who called Ellwood home and those that fought in the raging battle around Ellwood during the war.

The free event drew many visitors from the region and was a great way to show how special Ellwood and the battlefield are to Orange County.  It also highlighted the tremendous work being done by Friends of Wilderness Battlefield to restore Ellwood to its historic condition.

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Last Friday the Vermont State Legislature approved a resolution condemning the proposed Walmart at the Wilderness Battlefield and urging the Orange County Board of Supervisors to preserve the gateway to the National Park.  The resolution passed with little opposition in either the Senate or the House.  In the House several members actually shared stories of their ancestors who fought in the Civil War and shed their blood at the Wilderness in moving testimony that helped assure the resolution’s passage.

Vermont injecting itself into the Walmart debate in Orange County may seem unusual, but considering that the First Vermont Brigade suffered over 1,200 casualties during the fighting at the Wilderness it is completely understandable why the state would approve such a resolution.  In fact, Vermont played a critical role in preserving more than 500 acres of the Wilderness Battlefield already and has placed a granite monument on the Virginia battlefield where so many Vermont soldiers gave their lives.

Vermont’s action further underscores the argument that the Wilderness Battlefield is a site of national importance and should be treated with the respect such an important historical location deserves.  Congress set aside the battlefield as part of the National Park for all Americans to visit and enjoy, and Orange County has a duty as stewards of the battlefield to ensure its protection for generations to come.

Vermont recognizes that building a massive Walmart so close to the National Park would be a disaster for the Wilderness, and hopefully others will continue to come forward and express their opposition to a plan that would forever alter the visitor’s experience to the Wilderness Battlefield.

You can read the article and the resolution in Saturday’s Free Lance-Star.

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Lee and Grant Agree

General Lee and General Grant met for the first time on the field of battle at the Wilderness in 1864, and now they have joined forces to oppose the construction of a Walmart at the Wilderness Battlefield.

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