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"Wilderness Wal-Mart" Near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Gets Go-Head From Virginia Officials


Planning officials in Virginia have given Wal-Mart permission to build a sprawling Supercenter near the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

An effort to keep Wal-Mart from building a Supercenter on hallowed ground near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park has failed, with Orange County, Virginia, officials saying, "(T)his was a private deal between a private landowner and private business."

The vote brought quick condemnation from both the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association, with both groups pledging to continue to try to stop the project.

The long-running battled that pitted Civil War preservationists against a corporate giant ended early Tuesday when the county's Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve plans that call for a nearly 140,000-square-foot Supercenter with accompanying retail outlets on land that historically was part of the Wilderness Battlefield.

“I am deeply disappointed by today’s vote. The Orange County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to protect the battlefield by embracing a reasonable compromise approach to the Wal-Mart superstore proposal. Instead, they ignored rational voices on the national, state and local level encouraging them to work with the preservation community and local landowners to find a more suitable alternative location," said the organization's president, James Lighthizer.

“Today’s vote is not just a setback for preservationists. Orange County residents are losers as well. If the county had embraced the preservation planning process first proposed by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition in January, there would have been an opportunity to mitigate the transportation and development impacts of the proposal. Instead, the board voted to repeat the mistakes made by other localities, who are now struggling to address the problems created by similar piecemeal development and rampant sprawl.

“The ball is now in Wal-Mart’s court. Wal-Mart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a National Park. It is in the corporation’s best interests to work with the preservation community to find an alternative site. After all, building a big box superstore on the Wilderness Battlefield would belie recent attempts to portray Wal-Mart as environmentally sensitive. We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere," continued Mr. Lighthizer.

"The Civil War Preservation Trust and the other member groups of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition will now carefully weigh options for continued opposition of this misguided proposal. This battle is not over yet.”

At the NPCA's Virginia office, Catharine Gilliam said she was not surprised by the vote.

"This commercial development is improperly sited on land that is critical to understanding the National Park Service's interpretation of the Battle of the Wilderness for the American people. NPCA has actively participated and offered constructive suggestions to find alternatives that would protect the neighboring national park and allow a Walmart to be built on less sensitive land," she said. "It is not necessary to desecrate the land where a horrific battle took place less than 150 years ago in pursuit of profit and pavement.

"Although members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors announced repeatedly that they would vote to approve Walmart's application, even before the public process began, NPCA and our members, and other organizations in the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, participated in the public process at every stage available," Ms. Gilliam added. "Despite last night's disappointing vote, we will continue to explore options to protect this important national park. This battle is not over yet. We continue to hold out hope that Walmart will do the right thing by relocating its business, and respect and protect Americas heritage and history."

Among those who urged Orange County to choose another location for the proposed Wal-Mart were U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.); Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) and House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell (R); actors Robert Duvall, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stein; and more than 250 historians, including Pulitzer prize-winning authors David McCullough and James McPherson and acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns.

According to the National Park Service, the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864, with troops under both Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee engaged. "It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre," notes the agency.


Walmart doesn't care about anything except money. This country has become so focused on greed and how they can line their pockets with the "old mightly dollar" that nothing else matters. I have never had the opportunity to visit any of our national parks on the eastern seaboard, but with corporations like Walmart coming in and taking over, they won't be there for me to visit in the future. I am sorry to say that many of the corporations in this country speak out of both sides of their mouth, including Walmart. They doesn't care about the environment and preserving this nation anymore than the current adminsitration of this country.

As a native Virginian, I am very disappointed in this decision. Wonder what kind of impact this Wal-Mart will have on the battlefields? One only has to visit Petersburg National Battlefield. You can see the Home Depot (or Lowe's... one of those) from the Dictator trail. Throughout the entire battlefield, the sounds of traffic and Fort Lee permeate what should be hallowed silence.

Someone who cares, you hit the nail on the head. Wal-mart sees nothing but dollar signs for THEIR registers. Whatever happened to their big campaign they had years ago that they took pride in buying AMERICAN!! Oh yea, they make more money by buying cheap foreign junk. Meanwhile AMERICAN manufacturers suffer. We are now left to buy the foreign junk because the better quality merchandise is not made here anymore thanks to Wal-mart. Thanks Wal-mart for looking out for nobody but yourself.
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I agreed with "Someone Who Cares" all the way to the fifth-to-last word. That is the only word I would change, substituting "previous" for "current."

I smiled when I read this: "'We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere,' continued Mr. Lighthizer." He must be very optimistic indeed, the most kindly thing that I can say. If it were up to Wal-Mart, their stores would stretch across this country, each one visible from the last, limited in sprawl only by similar ambitions on the part of Home Depot, McDonalds, and the like.

It was simply too little, too late to save this historic land from development. Without government intervention, or deep-pocketed philanthropic efforts, profits and self-interest (I deleted the word "greed") will overrule any quaint historical and environmental concerns, if any are to be found in today's world of business to begin with.

That is why we have government, to balance public needs with the drive to make "the almighty dollar." The current administration will have a much better track record at this than the previous one. But again, it was too late for Wilderness Wal-Mart.

I understand not wanting a Walmart here - but the article says that "This was a private deal between a private landowner and private business." I sincerely hope that no administration, present or past, will deem itself so allmighty that they can just stop a legal transaction because they don't want that business there or this business here! The federal government should not be in the business of settling such disputes - to me, it is even dubious that the county Boad of Supervisors would have the power to stop a legal sale of property.
Just because it is a good cause doesn't demand that the federal government step in and sort it out - The people who do not want the store there have every right to lobby Walmart and to offer alternatives but the very war you are trying to conserve was fought over the government telling states and individuals what they could and couldn't do! No need to start another war over it, just work with the land-owner(s) and try to find a solution - this is not a GOVERNMENT problem!

All those who spent time and money opposing the WalMart would have better spent their time and money raising funds to buy the land outright and donate it to the National Park Service. The real issue here is not WalMart. I would have been opposed to any sort of development encroaching on the rural nature of a battlefield whether it was a Walmart, a housing development or a hospital. And it's really not that a battle was fought there. Battles that were fought close to cities then are no longer peaceful places for contemplation. Think of Bull Run with the airplanes from Dulles screaming overhead and Interstate 64 right on its edge. Think of the Alamo, right in the middle of San Antonio. The larger issue is that this country and its open spaces, the very rural Jeffersonian nature of this country are being ruined by too many people and the consequent development.

While the county would have difficulty stopping the sale of the land, they likely have the discretion to deny the permits to build the structures, parking lot, etc. They could have deemed it better for the public interest if wasn't developed (I've seen video of the modest strip mall already there) to the extent Wal-Mart wants it.

A very sad day, indeed. I was hoping that the Board of Supervisors would be more sensitive to public opinion as well as historical significance. The preservation of our nation's history and the growth of the local economy need not be mutually exclusive. A study was published in the Fredericksburg paper awhile ago saying how many millions of dollars are brought in by tourists who visit the battlefields. By preserving this land, the county would have sent the message that they care about their history. Now they are just like other counties, who cater to the big corporations at the expense of local businesses (including the tourism industry).

Back in the 70's, the battlefields in the Fredericksburg area were among my favorites to visit. I actually find it painful to go there now--tons of traffic and rows and rows of strip malls. This latest development only makes it worse.

I guess I'll be spending more of my time (and money) at Antietam where the local township has had the good sense to see what a treasure they have and to preserve it.

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