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Communities Struggle with Growth while Preserving the Past - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Communities Struggle with Growth while Preserving the Past

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The ongoing fight over the new Walmart Supercenter in Orange County, not far from the Wilderness battlefield, highlights a big problem in Virginia. History and business bumping into each other.

NBC29's Stacia Harris has this look at what communities are doing to grow their future without losing their past.

In the Shenandoah Valley, the town of New Market is right next to a major Civil War battlefield. The battle of New Market was fought on May 15 1864. Virginia Military Institute cadets fought and died alongside confederate soldiers. In that battle, union forces lost.

Beth Stern with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation helps protect 10 battlefields, including New Market, in 8 counties in the valley.

Stern stated, “I think these places speak to us across the years. All the fighting Americans fought one another, killed one another, that story speaks to us.”

The foundation works to not only keep development off core sections of battlefield land, but to also acquire the tracts of land that played a role in the fighting. But every city, no matter how big or small needs business and housing options to keep and attract people. So is it possible to preserve a town's history and also grow the economy?

New Market Town Planner Chad Neese says yes. Neese said, “We want to find a way to bring goods and services to town, without destroying its character.”

Back in 2007, the town of New Market wanted to expand their boundaries, using input from citizens, preservationists and others the town drew up a growth plan. In part, it spelled out where new housing would go, and where new business could set up shop.

Neese stated, “You've got to look at preserving your history so you'll have something to sell to tourists but also have to look at creating jobs to keep people in the area."

According to the plan, most of the town's growth is directed towards downtown and east towards the mountains.

Neese said, “What that does is limit the impact that can occur around the battlefield like unsightly signs and billboards, things of that nature.”

There is land zoned for development near the battlefield along Interstate 81 but any development is supposed to be sparse.

Neese said, “Coming up with a plan ahead of time is great, it gives you the opportunity to meet with developers and say this is how we've discussed the land, this is how we'd like it developed.”

Interstate 81 runs beside New Market and cuts through the New Market Battlefield as well as many other battlefields in the Valley. Like many modern highways Interstate 81 parallels a much older and heavily traveled route, Highway 211.

Stern stated, “Troops moved along roadways, the path of least resistance if possible.”

So the same roads and rivers troops traveled along nearly 150 years ago are still popular for growth and travel today. Meaning in many cities and counties battlefield and other historic tracts of land are up for grabs.

Rick Britton is a historian and author based in Charlottesville. “The danger of development is once they are developed they are gone forever.” Britton stated. “As more and more people move into Virginia and towns get larger, they move into previously rural areas that includes battlefield areas.”

Many battlefields like New Market aren't in immediate danger because they've become a money maker for the town. Britton said, “In the town of New Market you have a locality that understands the tourist money being brought into town because of historic sites.”

Stern stated, “There is this myth that battlefield preservation and economic development are incompatible. I think what we would say is they are the same thing.”

Many preservation groups like the one in the Valley rely on money from Congress, larger preservation groups and private donations as well to buy battlefield land directly or work out a conservation easement deal with the current land owner.

Reported by Stacia Harris
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