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Wilderness makes 'endangered' list
Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss brings star power to historic preservation; Wilderness battlefield controversy draws national attention

 Actor Richard Dreyfuss (right) sits with re-enactors while listening to Civil War Preservation Trust President James Lighthizer during yesterday's Washington press conference about the nation's endangered battlefields.
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Date published: 3/19/2009


WASHINGTON--It shared billing with 24 other battlefields, but the Wilderness got plenty of play yesterday as preservationists spotlighted America's most endangered Civil War sites.

The battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania counties was mentioned several times as the Civil War Preservation Trust briefed the media on its 2009 "History Under Siege" report at a National Press Club news conference headlined by Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss.

It was the first historic site that CWPT President James Lighthizer named as he released the trust's yearly top-10 list of the nation's most threatened battlefields. The trust also announced 15 "at-risk" battlefields.

Wilderness exemplifies how some national battlefield parks face grave challenges from outside their boundaries, Lighthizer said. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. proposes to build a 138,000-square-foot Supercenter on commercially zoned land within a quarter-mile of the Wilderness battle sites preserved by Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The trust and its allies say the Wal-Mart, anchoring other retail projects, will encourage sprawl at the gateway to the park and pour heavy traffic onto State Route 20, the heart of the battlefield.

"[The Wilderness] was a horrific battle, with tremendous slaughter, and yet the Wal-Mart corporation proposes building a monstrosity of a big box on the battlefield, though it's not on National Park Service land," Lighthizer told the standing-room-only crowd. "At the very least, it's going to denigrate that battlefield. And at the very worst, it's going to destroy part of it. Something proposed even on the outside of land already preserved can be a serious threat."

Maryland's Monocacy national battlefield, threatened by a proposed waste incinerator and its 200-foot-tall smokestack, falls in the same category, Lighthizer said.

But Dreyfuss stole the show, as the trust's chief readily admitted.

"This is like a parallel universe for me because I love history as much as I love acting," Dreyfuss said. "Had I not been an actor, I would have been a history teacher, and that's that."

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The Civil War Preservation Trust, which issued its first annual report on endangered battlefields in February 2001, named the following 10 sites yesterday as the nation's most threatened:

Cedar Creek, Va.

Fort Gaines, Ala.

Gettysburg, Pa.

Monocacy, Md.

New Market Heights, Va.

Port Gibson, Miss.

Sabine Pass, Texas

South Mountain, Md.

Spring Hill, Tenn.

Wilderness, Va.

The report also includes 15 other Civil War sites--including Hampton's Fort Monroe--as "at-risk."