No doubt many readers are aware of the emerging threat to the Wilderness Battlefield. I won’t pretend to say I’m some expert on the situation around that battlefield, nor of the local situation in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties. But here is what I do know:
1. Proposed location will exacerbate the already painful traffic problems at the intersection of Virginia 3 and 20. Anyone who has walked around the Wilderness can attest that with much of the local traffic is at times dangerous.
2. The Wilderness and Chancellorsville battlefields as they are today are patches of preservation within a growing series of housing subdivisions. The Park Service and preservation organizations have done a noteworthy job protecting the views and reducing the impact. But all that could fall like a house of cards with the addition of a major shopping plaza and associated development, in some cases yards away from the major battlefield areas.
3. Already a significant “strip mall” to include fast food and gas stations exists at the site. The site of Grant’s and Meade’s headquarters is now just behind someone’s dumpster.
4. The “convenience” factor of the location is questionable at best. Again, I’m not a local, but know some of the area. If you draw a circle from around the proposed site, there are similar stores within 20 miles of the site, in either direction. I’m sorry but I grew up in “fly over” country. Having a Wal-Mart a half hour from home is acceptable! Heck I currently live just a couple of miles away from our local Wal-Mart, but with traffic it takes near on 15 minutes to get there on a Saturday!
5. None of the major news outlets in the Northern Virginia area have picked up on this story.
The last item is a thorn in my craw. A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a piece on the tree cutting at Manassas (covered also on Harry Smeltzer’s blog). The major complaint, expressed by individuals interviewed for the article and by comments on the article, seemed to be an objection to “killing the trees.” For Manassas, even the most ardent Civil War enthusiast should agree, two themes, preservation and environmental concerns, seemed to work at cross purposes. However in the case of the Wilderness and Wal-Mart debate, the two themes should work in parallel.
Another question I would raise is the motives behind the development. Is this a case of “getting the door cracked just a little more,” which would lead to more encroachment down the line? I’ve seen the effects of similar tactics in Eastern Loudoun County in even the few short years I’ve lived here. The concept of “development now, infrastructure later” doesn’t play out well over time. This year it will be a Supercenter. Next year will be another extension of strip malls. Then three years out everyone will complain about the traffic, and require bypasses, overpasses, and expressways. In time there will be a narrow strip of “globally uncommon to rare, basic oak-hickory” tree line separating the battlefield from the bowling alley.
But on a good note, I am quite impressed with the CWPT resource page for this effort. I work on information management and collaboration solutions all the day long, so I CAN speak somewhat authoritatively on this. The information is well arranged, but with a depth and breath not often seen for a preservation topic. Maps, I like maps. And here we have the always detailed CWPT maps along with historical maps. Even imagery showing the ground in question. There are links to National Park service sites, official reports from the battle participants, and related news. The only squib that I’d mention are some links to what I’d call politically affiliated sites. But taken as a whole, the resource page is a workman-like product. Don’t take my word for it, visit the site. Even if you are not impressed, consider supporting this cause and the efforts of this worthy organization.