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National Trust site inaugurates monumental effort to memorialize Civil War fallen for visitors to battlefields' nexus
National Trust chief Stephanie Meeks, Oatlands director Andrea McGimsey, JTHG founder Cate Wyatt, Oatlands chairman Mike O'Connor and state Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton applaud first planting.
CLINT SCHEMMER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY CLINT SCHEMMER
LEESBURG--What better way to symbolize a life than with a green, growing tree that will outlive us all?
In this case, we're talking about 620,000 trees--one for every soldier, South and North, who died during the most tragic time in American history.
That simple but ambitious idea to honor the Civil War dead is taking root this week as Oatlands, an 1803 plantation near the Loudoun-Prince William county line.
The 360-acre Piedmont farm is the first place to host the Journey Through Hallowed Ground's Living Legacy Project, which could create the longest landscaped allee in the world.
The plan calls for the project to stretch along the Journey's 180-mile National Scenic Byway, which runs from Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson's home near Charlottesville. It's no coincidence that the corridor, along U.S. 15, has the greatest concentration of Civil War battlefields in the country.
The project's pilot phase, launched Tuesday, will plant or dedicate more than 400 trees at Oatlands.
"I think this is one of the most beautiful and inspiring ideas that I've ever seen," Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told those gathered at Oatlands for the inaugural planting.
"This wonderful project is all about place and protecting place but, more importantly for the future, about engaging people in this place, asking them to experience it and to love it, and to contribute to its protection by visiting it and investing in it."
State Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, the other keynote speaker, urged Virginians to do everything they can to to support the project and "get those trees planted."
It can generate tourism, promote the state's history and advance people's understanding of epic events, much as Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" movie is doing in theaters now, he said.
"It's so imperative that we remember the sacrifices that these soldiers made to to create this country," Connaughton said, pointing out that more men died in the Civil War than all of America's other wars combined. He also noted that it was Lincoln who, in 1863, established Thanksgiving as a national holiday.