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Worse than Yankees
Here we go again: Saving The Wilderness from Wal-Mart

Date published: 8/27/2008

TO PARAPHRASE Ronald Reagan, here we go again. It seems like only yesterday when the community was fighting Wal-Mart to keep a big-box store off George Washington's boyhood home. Now another historic property is threatened, and the question is: Who will win the second Battle of the Wilderness?

The original, of course, was the 1864 conflagration between Gens. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. The first meeting of the two on the field of arms took place in western Spotsylvania and eastern Orange counties, a wild, thicket-laced area along the old Plank Road. The battle involved over 160,000 troops and marked the start of Grant's Overland Campaign, an offensive that took the Union Army clear down to Richmond. Before the smoke cleared--literally: bullets set the dry brush on fire and many wounded burned to death--almost 4,000 soldiers rested in the arms of God.

This year's invaders cannot rightfully be called Yankees, since Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., and trades with the world. But the 142,000-square-foot store it proposes could be as devastating as anything Grant unleashed. The site, near State Routes 3 and 20, lies irreverently within a quarter-mile of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Also, Wal-Mart's site plan includes four pads for "junior big boxes." And another group wants to put a 1.65-million-square-foot retail, office, and government complex on 846 adjacent acres. Developments in toto larger than Central Park would lap at the entrance to a national shrine.

Did the people who choose to live out western Route 3 buy their homes there despite the lack of shopping opportunities, or because of it? Slipping the surly bonds of congested, close-in Route 3 retail areas surely provides palpable relief to most residents.

True, the site Wal-Mart wants, within Orange County, was zoned commercial 20 years ago. But times have changed. Shopping opportunities now abound, including online. As a region, we recognize more and more that history paved over is lost forever.

Just this summer, scholars unearthed the foundation of George Washington's home at Ferry Farm. What treasures were found, what insights! Except for the dogged opposition of a group of history-conscious residents, this trove could have been buried under Aisle 8Bof the store Wal-Mart slavered to build.

Fortunately, Orange Country's big-box ordinance requires approval for the Wal-Mart project. The county should manfully repel this invasion from the stateless army of Bentonville--a very small sacrifice alongside that tendered by Americans blue and gray in the bloody Wilderness.