CWPT Leads Effort To Stop Wal-Mart At The Wilderness
By Deborah Fitts
THE WILDERNESS, Va. — Plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield have prompted a coalition of preservation groups to deliver a shot across the mega-store’s bow.
The 145,000-square-foot facility would be sited on a 55-acre tract in Orange County, north of the intersection of routes 3 and 20. The site lies immediately across Route 3 from Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.
In hopes of warning off Wal-Mart, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) has rallied a coalition of groups to send a joint letter citing their opposition to the plan. Trust spokesman Jim Campi said the letter was mailed on the July 4 weekend.
“It’s the opening round,” said Campi of the letter. “It’s to put Wal-Mart and county officials on notice that we’re going to oppose this.”
Campi said of the Supercenter, “This is just going to be a magnet for sprawl.” Besides the Wal-Mart itself, he said there are plans for a large parking area and “two baby box stores” on the site.
The letter, sent to Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. in Bentonville, Ark., asserts that the store “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.”
The letter also warned that such major development “would impair the rural nature of the area and would increase traffic dramatically.” In fact, the store would boost pressure to expand Route 20 to four lanes through the Wilderness battlefield, the letter states. “That expansion is unacceptable to this coalition.”
Leading the charge against the Wal-Mart plan are CWPT and the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council. Their “Wilderness Battlefield Coalition” also includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Parks Conservation Association, Friends of the Wilderness, and Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields. Representatives of all six organizations signed the letter.
Campi cited “significant” local opposition as well. Orange County has long indicated a desire to block major development in this area, he said. Although the land was zoned for commercial development back in the 1970s, “quite a few elected officials think that was a mistake.”
Spotsylvania County, meanwhile, right next door, “is trying to keep commercial development east of Chancellorsville.” (And in Appomattox County Wal-Mart is on track for a 26-acre project near the national park.)
The letter states that the battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5-6, 1864, “marked the first clash between legendary Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.” More than 160,000 troops were engaged and nearly 29,000 were casualties.
The battle initiated Grant’s Overland Campaign, “that exhausted both armies and took the Union forces to the gates of Richmond.”
The letter also notes that the park protects 2,773 acres of the Wilderness battlefield. Although the park boundary does not encompass the Wal-Mart site, the land “is within the historic limits of the battlefield.”
Campi said Wal-Mart will need a special use permit in order to go ahead, and that will entail public comment. As of mid-July no dates had been set for a hearing.
Campi said CWPT members will be kept apprised of the Wal-Mart project on the Trust’s Web site, civilwar.org.