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Undeterred by criticism, park advocates renew offer to fund collaborative planning effort for Wilderness battlefield's entrance
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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."