In late May, Walmart announced that it has chosen an alternative site for its store in Orange County — a successful outcome for preservationists who, for years, pressed Walmart to build its store at a location that would not negatively impact Wilderness Battlefield.
The site that Walmart originally selected for its store bordered the national battlefield park and was itself the center of command for the Union army during the brutal 1864 battle. Wilderness Battlefield is currently most visited tourist destination in Orange County and a significant economic generator, drawing 170,000 visitors each year. Walmart’s new proposed location is located about three and a half miles northwest of the battlefield, on commercially zoned land along Rt. 3, convenient to the Lake of the Woods neighborhood.
PEC said in a statement, “Wal-Mart’s decision to pursue an alternative location for its superstore allows Orange County the economic benefit of the development while enabling the preservation of one of America’s most significant historic landscapes and a cornerstone of heritage tourism in the region.”
Prior to the announcement, members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, including PEC, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Civil War Trust, and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield reviewed the new location and agreed that it was an appropriate site for commercial development that would not seriously diminish the experience of visitors to the battlefield.
Back in February, on the day that a court case over the original site was to begin, in a dramatic reversal, Walmart announced that it was dropping its plans to build on the battlefield land, but would still purchase that property in order to preserve it. Walmart also stated that it would seek an alternative site in Orange County, and would reimburse the County for its legal and administrative costs. Walmart has since carried through on these promises. Although (by press time) Walmart has not yet announced its plans for protecting the land, it is expected to do so this summer.
Going forward, the Wilderness Coalition, American Battlefields Protection Program, and the National Park Service are sponsoring a Gateway Study for eastern Orange County — working with citizens and the County toward a plan that will integrate long term transportation solutions, economic development, and historic preservation.