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Wal-Mart Request Would Put a Super Center Next to The Wilderness Battlefield


The Old Germann Plank Road Trace runs near the site of the Wilderness Tavern on the Wilderness Battlefield at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Wal-Mart is proposing a massive development on the edge of the battlefield. NPS photo.

Northern Virginia is a much more crowded place than it was during the Civil War. But Civil War historians, preservationists, and buffs, as well as National Park Service officials, are still flummoxed by Wal-Mart's wish to place a super center next to one of the most poignant battlefields of the Civil War.

"I am very disappointed they didn't consider other sites and didn't listen to the feedback they got that this site is too close to the Wilderness battlefield," Russ Smith, superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

Wal-Mart's plan is to develop a 53-to-55-acre tract of land just north of the Wilderness Corner intersection. Part of the proposed development would hold a super center covering nearly 140,000 square feet, with enough room left over for additional retail outlets. While that land is not part of the national battlefield, it is, historically, part of the Wilderness Battlefield.

According to the 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.

Last summer a coalition of groups -- the Civil War Preservation Trust, Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Piedmont Environmental Council -- wrote Wal-Mart president and CEO, H. Lee Scott, Jr., asking that his corporation look elsewhere for its project.

The Wilderness Battlefield was determined to be one of the most historically significant battlegrounds in the nation by a blue ribbon panel created by Congress in 1990. In an exhaustive 1993 report, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC) identified Wilderness as a Priority I, Class A site, its highest designation. The commission identified the 55-acre parcel as part of the Wilderness Battlefield.

Today more than 2,773 acres of the Wilderness Battlefield are preserved as part of Fredericksburg and
Spotsylvania National Military Park. This Super Wal-Mart would be built within one-quarter mile of
the National Park and would pave the way for desecration of the Wilderness with unnecessary
commercial growth. Such a large-scale development is inappropriate next to a National Park.

At the Civil War Preservation Trust, policy director Jim Campi told the Free Lance-Star that the location of the proposed development is "extremely inappropriate for any kind of big-box commercial, especially a Wal-Mart.

"We're not telling Wal-Mart 'No way.' We're just telling them, 'Not here,'" he said.


I thought this was an interesting observation on the matter from libertarian columnist Lew Rockwell:

Now a bunch of academic and media propagandists for federal power want to stop Wal-Mart from bringing low prices and great products to the working people of Orange County, Virginia. What is their excuse? The store is to be in a strip shopping mall one mile from a Civil War killing place. The deathfield, where 50,000 defenders defeated 100,000 invaders, is said to be "hallowed ground." But Wal-Mart is not (and cannot) build there. However, the shopping area is also "hallowed" because it was an assembly zone for the aggressors. Can't have it turned to commerce, a life-building activity disdained by left-wing intellectuals.

Living in Fredericksburg, Virginia for the past dozen or so years, I have watched the explosion of commercial and residential development in this area. We’re talking less than 150,000 people. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania battlefields you could say are my neighbors being less than half a mile to 8 miles away.

How many Wal-Marts (5), Lowes (3), Home Depot (3), Grocery Stores (numerous, and we will be getting a new Wegmans in the spring), Pharmacies (numerous with CVS and Rite Aid leading the pack) etc. does an area really need? Did I mention the Kalahari Water Park and Convention Center?

If I choose to shop at a Wal-Mart Supercenter I have three to choose from within a 5 Mile radius. I can travel south for 1.5 miles, or north for 3.5 miles or east for 4.5miles. Thinking about it, I don’t think I have been in a Wal-Mart in years.

The Orange county folks have been way over due for this kind of development.

Now those folks that live over in the Wilderness battlefield have been denied the Wal-Mart shopping experience for two long. My gosh they have to travel 14.5 miles east to the Fredericksburg Supercenter or 15.4 miles to the Culpeper Supercenter. It’s probably about time that they should be able to spend their hard earned dollars without such a “terribly inconvenient drive”.

Semper Fi

Yoy know in terms of being environmentally friendly Wal-Mart is not as bad as many people think. That being said, I was not so sure as what should be done at first. The park has to end somewhere, but the store would very close to the park in fact too close and the land is historically. In the end, I hope the Wal-Mart is not yet good points have been made on both sides.

Dan as for ypu point will it ever Example: Cutting down a historically tree in New England.


What needs to be said, and folks need to be educated on with regard to the Wilderness site is it is ON the battlefield, not adjacent.

Fact is the site is included within the boundaries of the original tract of land considered "battlefield" under the initial survey by the War Department.

This isn't a case where someone is seeking to preserve some locality where Elvis once sang, or where the first cheeseburger was served. This site is linked into the watershed event in American History.

Dan-----well said. Your insight adds an important dimension to this debate.

There's so many good textbooks written on the subject of mallization of America. City planners have fought for years to stabilize regional planning fiascos that corporate interests tries to shove down are throats...Walmart is one of them with their jaded wing tip shoe lawyers. Dumps in the backyard of the minorities, freeways zoned in the backyards of the middleclass, and the rich in gated communities afar from the maddening crowd. Now it's coming folks, the mallization of the National Parks...Geo. Bush style! Let's see folks, you now have oil and gas leases at the borders of the National Parks and soon to come, a spiffy Walmart to enhance the natural beauty of the parks. Can't beat it! They say, take an inch and grab a foot Walmart style...and screw their employees. The American way!

This string of comments makes clear that there are three competing issues here.

The first, most obvious knee-jerk reaction is the anti-Wal-Mart moralizing. "On second thought, don't we have enough Wal-marts? Do we really need one more?" A lot of people out there have objections to Wal-Mart's business model, and will gladly grasp any proffered handle to jerk them around. In this case, Wal-Mart can be accused of profaning the Wilderness battlefield, automatically ranking them in some eyes with Protestant (or Taliban, if you prefer) iconoclasts. This reaction is irrelevant here, which is the point made by the first two Anonymous posters. In terms of land-use policy, Wal-Mart should be viewed as no different from any other large retailer, and little different from many other kinds of development.

The second, also irrelevant, is the aesthetic reaction. Wal-Mart, with its big, unadorned buildings, gaudy colors, free overnight RV parking in expansive, well-lit lots, and teeming masses of unwashed proles can always be counted on to attract the disapprobation of the aesthetes. Kurt's objection to the Golden Arches' visibility from the Park City ski jump is in this category, and no surprise since the blaring reds and yellows of McDonalds were Public Enemy Number One for the aesthetes since Wal-Mart was an Arkansas five and dime. According to this argument, proximity itself is metaphysically harmful to the site. Presumably, ugly Wal-mart's presence has a negative metaphysical effect on the mana accumulated at a site like Wildnerness, which decreases exponentially with distance, presumably like electromagnetic radiation. So a Wal-mart a mere quarter mile from a park's boundaries represents an impairment in a way that the same store 5 miles away would not. To the aesthetes, I say be glad that Wildnerness is in a region where trees can block unwelcome views (with consequent mitigating effects on accumulated mana). If you can accept the place of department stores in the community, but object merely to the architecture, then talk to Ed McMahon of the Smart Growth Network, who beats that particular drum for a living.

The third issue is the relevant one: what do we do about parcels of land that are of historical or natural value, but are destined to be developed for other purposes? What we are dealing with is not often recognized for what it is: a superfluity of sacredness. There are so many places of importance that it would be wasteful to preserve them all. Yes, wasteful. Preservation is subject to the law of diminishing returns; how many acres does one need to preserve, appreciate, and educate about the Battle of the Wilderness? The boundaries must go somewhere; there must be a line between sacred and profane space. There must be a finite number of acres sufficient to the task. If we just buy up every adjacent parcel at risk of development, there can be no end to it.

One technique that is cynical in inverse proportion to its effectiveness is the attempt to shame, harass, or obstruct Wal-Mart into withdrawing. Wal-Mart employs a lot of people, and provides returns for a lot of investors, and to that end they are in the business of providing low-cost retail and services. That's what they do. They have some awfully clever demographers, geographers, and economists punching numbers, shuffling paper, and identifying profitable sites. They are extremely good at it. They have no reason to avoid an available site because it's historic, much less because it's adjacent to something historic. If they sacrificed the site to a competitor, or bought the land or its conservation easement for the purpose of preservation, they would be betraying their shareholders (i.e., your IRA, your pension, your retirement).

So what's the solution? With a surfeit of sites, we have to be like a doctor in triage: in the time available, with the resources available, how can we salvage the most, and most important, resources? The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission is doing triage, but like anyone charged with that unpleasant task, they are dismayed at how many must be abandoned to save a few. Doctors have cursed this necessity since time immemorial (think Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H), but it remains necessary. There remains the problem of local government's all-too-common inability to manage these problems, which is a weakness of democratic government--few county supervisors are equipped to deal with this kind of thing.

Kurt is right, these debates over land use are intractable. We go over this stuff again and again, in a thousand contexts. But confusion over the real issue only makes it more difficult. It doesn't matter if the planned development is a Wal-Mart, an REI, a hospital or a low-income apartment community, but when it's a Wal-Mart (or McDonalds), expect the Wal-Mart-haters and aesthetes to come out in droves, and endlessly complicate an already difficult situation.

Haven't we developed enough land? I'm quite certain there is an empty building somewhere that Wal-Mart can utilize. When we moved into our home 4 1/2 years ago, we were able to hear the coyotes howling at night. Now we rarely hear them, maybe once a year. This is all due to development. Come on Wal-Mart find some property that's already been developed and leave nature well enough alone.

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