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Archive for May, 2009

The Civil War News has a good article this month on the proposed Walmart on the Wilderness Battlefield.  You can read it here.

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The Free Lance-Star gets it right again in an editorial in today’s paper entitled, “Move the Great Wal.” The editorial calls on Walmart and Orange County to do the right thing, and find another location in the county for the Walmart Supercenter.  The editorial notes that “siting it, as planned, at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20–the gateway to the Wilderness battlefield park–is painfully mistaken.”  Building a Walmart on a Civil War battlefield and across the road from a National Park is simply inappropriate, and it is refreshing to see the Free Lance-Star outline so clearly why the Walmart should be moved to another, less historically sensitive site inside Orange County.

It also points out the absurdity of using the term “carpetbagger” to describe those that are opposed to constructing a Walmart on the Wilderness Battlefield.  At issue is the sanctity of a National Park and one of the most historic battlefields in the country, which makes this an issue of concern to all Americans.  Congress set aside this land for every single American to enjoy as long as there is an America, and Orange County has the responsibility to manage this important resource properly.

Hopefully, Walmart and Orange County are paying attention.  By moving the store to a different location everybody wins, and Walmart has the opportunity to turn this negative controversy into a preservation victory.

The editorial is copied below:

Move the great Wal

THE Wal-Mart/Wilderness rumpus in Orange County begs for the talents of a Harry Turtledove, a master of the “alternative history” genre in which an invasion by extraterrestrials interrupts World War II or a time warp allows the Confederate army to get weapons from the Wehr-macht. In this case, the men in blue and gray who fought in the Orange battle would call a truce to join forces against a powerful invader indifferent to high-minded crusades or causes lost or won. But Mr. Turtledove would need to mix the supernatural into this novel, because those men are all long dead and the invader exists right now.

Which in the real world leaves it to those soldiers’ spiritual heirs–we mean Americans, not, as some narrowly focused boosters would have it, “carpetbaggers”–to fight off the aggressor. Wal-Mart wants to put a mega store on 51.6 acres that was part of the Battle of the Wilderness, and across the road from the national park commemorating the conflagration. Orange supervisors evidently lean toward approving the project, which would include some smaller stores–and in time would draw the miscellaneous retail remoras that usually accompany the big-box sharks. Preservationists–historians, legislators, actors, and assorted citizens, as well as those who protect history for a living–are trying to re-do the deal.

They recently got a little moral ammo in a statement by the director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “Construction of a Wal-Mart facility at the scale and on the site proposed,” wrote Kathleen Kilpatrick, “will have a serious adverse effect both on the Wilderness Battlefield and on the National Park.” The Wilderness, she noted, is in the top one-half percent of Civil War battle sites for “historical significance, meriting the highest priority for preservation.”

It is easy to see why. The Wilderness was the first battle between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the latter’s running Overland Campaign, which ground down Lee’s outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia in a series of high-casualty encounters. At the end of the fighting that began in the wilds of Orange County in 1864 came the capture of Richmond and the surrender at Appomattox. Thus, while the Revolutionary War won America’s independence, the Wilderness was, in a sense, the first stage in the “fine focus” of the American Experiment that defined for good what sort of nation we would be. The almost 4,000 soldiers, USA and CSA, who left their bodies in that scrub growth contributed to the definition.

If Orange County wants a Wal-Mart, that is Orange County’s affair. But siting it, as planned, at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20–the gateway to the Wilderness battlefield park–is painfully mistaken. In another May, whole divisions lost their bearings within the Wilderness jungle; one survivor called the bloody clash “the battle of invisibles with invisibles.” This May, are leaders in Orange, Va., and Bentonville, Ark., similarly blinded? Or, guided by reverence, will they write an alternative future?

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Below are some highlights from the Planning Commission’s May 21 public hearing on the proposed Wilderness Walmart.

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After approximately 4 hours of public statements on the proposed Wilderness Walmart last Thursday evening, the Orange County Planning Commission recessed until June 11.  The Commissioners will vote on the Special Use Permit for Walmart at their next meeting on June 11.  Opponents of the Walmart outnumbered supporters by at least 2-to-1 during the public hearing and, according to the Free Lance-Star, there were 200 people total in attendance at the hearing with 73 people making public statements.

For complete coverage of the public hearing please visit the Free Lance-Star page dedicated to the proposed Walmart on the Wilderness Battlefield.

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According to a story in this morning’s Free Lance-Star, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) found several flaws in the report created by Orange County staff with regards to the proposed Walmart on the Wilderness Battlefield.  First and foremost, the letter DHR sent to the Planning Commission chairman clearly states that the proposed Walmart “is located entirely within the boundaries of the Wilderness Battlefield.”  Walmart still refuses to recognize this fact, however, even though DHR, the official congressional study on Civil War battlefields, and more than 250 top historians all point out that the Walmart would be built on battlefield land.

This letter to Orange County should give them pause, and it should help them recognize that building a Walmart there would have a serious adverse impact on the Wilderness Battlefield and the National Park.  It’s not too late to sit down with Walmart and identify another location in Orange County that would be suitable for the Supercenter and not impact the battlefield.  Walmart can turn this story around and be the hero of the preservation community – what have they got to lose?

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Ellwood 010The Orange County Planning Commission will hold its public hearing tomorrow night to consider Walmart’s proposal to build a 138,000 square foot Supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield.  The Planning Commission may not vote on the application tomorrow night after the public hearing concludes, and if they don’t they will likely take a vote at their next scheduled meeting in two weeks.

Once the Planning Commission has made its recommendation, the proposal will then move to the Board of Supervisors and they will hold a public hearing as well.  A final decision from the Supervisors is expected by the end of June.

Tomorrow’s public hearing will be at 7:00 p.m. at Prospect Heights Middle School in the Town of Orange.  The address is 202 Dailey Drive, Orange, VA 22960 and you can find a map here.

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Yesterday, Preservation Virginia unveiled its annual “Most Endangered Historic Sites in Virginia” list, and the Wilderness Battlefield was among the 9 sites listed this year.  Speaking from the steps of Ellwood on the Wilderness Battlefield, Executive Director Elizabeth Kostelny cited the immediate threat posed by Walmart as the primary reason for the Orange County battlefield’s presence on the list for 2009.  According to Preservation Virginia’s press release announcing the list:

Annually, the battlefield draws 170,000 visitors to Orange County, generating sustainable economic activity through heritage tourism.   The proposed Wal-Mart would degrade the rural context of the battlefield, promote commercial sprawl, and drastically increase traffic through the heart of the park.

Preservation Virginia add its voice to an ever-growing chorus of concerned citizens and organizations worried about the damage a Walmart would inflict on the Wilderness Battlefield.

The Orange County Planning Commission is set to hold a public hearing on Walmart’s proposal this Thursday, May 21, at 7:00 p.m. at Prospect Heights Middle School, 202 Dailey Drive, Orange, Virginia.

For press coverage of the event, please read an article in today’s Free Lance-Star and Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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