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Rebuffed preservationists remain willing
Undeterred by criticism, park advocates renew offer to fund collaborative planning effort for Wilderness battlefield's entrance

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Date published: 1/26/2009

By CLINT SCHEMMER

Its recent peace overture got a frosty reception, but the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition remains committed to working with Orange County on developments proposed at the gateway to the Civil War site.

Two weeks ago, three Orange supervisors slam-med the coalition's offer to collaborate on planning the area's future, calling it a ruse to delay their decision on a proposed retail center anchored by a 138,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter. One called the offer a "cheap ploy to slow down Wal-Mart."

Not so, coalition leaders say.

"These things aren't done overnight," said Jim Campi of the Civil War Preservation Trust. "But we're committing to a time frame of six months, which is pretty quick in the planning world."

The coalition's nonprofit groups and the National Park Service are offering to finance a $40,000 effort to help Orange find ways to create jobs and boost its economy while preserving the scenic landscapes that make the Wilderness battlefield the county's No. 1 tourist attraction, Campi said. All of the money, including the Park Service funds, would come from private donations.

"It's a good-faith effort, not a delaying tactic," said Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. "The people who are trying to put this together honestly want to try to create a vision for the gateway to the park that can be economically viable, yet respectful of the area."

Top experts would be asked to advise Orange officials and residents on how they can craft a plan for the "gateway community" they desire at the State Route 3/Route 20 entrance to The Wilderness. America has many such places adjoining its national parks: Antietam, Md.; Gettysburg, Pa.; Bozeman, Mont.; West Yellowstone, Wyo.; and Bar Harbor, Maine, to name a few.

In Gettysburg, for example, the Park Service funded a study on how the city and the battlefield park could live together better and cooperate more closely on tourism, Smith said.

The idea is to be more forward-looking and seek out "appropriate development, or development the community wants to see," he said, rather than reacting to whatever projects happen to come along.

One key is establishing a dialogue among all parties early on, Smith said: "You need to get there ahead of the game, and talk before development gets out of hand."


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BYPASS PROPOSED

One new issue at The Wilderness is a State Route 20 bypass that landowner Charles "Chip" King proposes to serve his planned Wilderness Crossing development, north of State Route 3.

The road would be built on King property bounded by Route 20, Route 3 and Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, between a long line of Federal trenches and the site of the May 1864 headquarters shared by Union Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and George Meade. The land is within the national park's boundary set by Congress.

VDOT officials support the proposed road, which would intersect with Route 3 and also serve the proposed Wal-Mart retail center.

THE COALITION

The members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition are the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (which owns 18 acres near Wilderness Corner); Civil War Preservation Trust; Friends of Wilderness Battlefield; Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields; National Trust for Historic Preservation; National Parks Conservation Association; National Coalition for History; Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities; and Piedmont Environmental Council.

HISTORY SNAPSHOT

The Battle of the Wilderness, one of the Civil War's largest and most important conflicts, was the first clash between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

The May 5-6, 1864, battle began Grant's grueling Overland Campaign, which drained both armies and brought Union troops to the gates of Richmond.

More than 160,000 men fought along what are now State Routes 3 and 20. Nearly 29,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured.

Today, much of the battlefield is part of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter is within the historical battle area, but outside the park boundary authorized by Congress.