Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Consensus reached on Wilderness battlefield ‘gateway’ plan

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The preferred development plan created by Orange County, Va., stakeholders designates areas for Wilderness Village, a campus business park, a Rapidan River park and buffers for the Civil War’s Wilderness battlefield. (WILDERNESS GATEWAY STUDY)

Orange County officials, landowners, preservationists share vision for Rapidan-to-Route 3 corridor


A different vision for Orange County’s State Route 3 corridor is gaining backers as people who were once rivals work to blend job-creating growth with landscape preservation.

That is today’s word from the parties in a nationally rare effort to shape the future for what they call the “gateway” to Virginia’s Wilderness battlefield, the Civil War site where forces led by Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first faced off.

Hill Studio of Roanoke and the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield announced a consensus-based development plan for the gateway along Route 3 to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Orange Supervisor Jim White said the county can incorporate the vision in its comprehensive land-use plan, now being revised, to create a framework for the Route 3 corridor.

“The Preferred Development Plan establishes a workable direction for the future and will enable us to pursue more detailed analyses and land planning for the gateway corridor,” White said in a statement.

Orange officials, major landowners and preservationists who shaped the plan said it can achieve both economic development and preservation goals.

The central idea is to create a community with a truly unique sense of place where people can live, work and play, said Glenn Stach, the preservation landscape architect at Hill Studio who facilitated the months-long dialogue.

“We want people to feel that ‘I want to live there, I want to be there,’” said Zann Nelson, president of the Wilderness friends group, a nonprofit based in Orange.

Hill Studio landscape architect Glenn Stach talks with Friends of Wilderness Battlefield President Zann Nelson at Saunders Field, heart of the Civil War battlefield in Orange County, Va. (DANIEL McFARLAND/THE FREE LANCE-STAR

The plan aims to preserve some historic land between Route 3, the Rapidan River and the battlefield, create a mixed-use village along Vaucluse Road, improve the Route 3 corridor’s appearance and attract major employers that heed quality-of-life issues for their workers.

It seeks to avoid the kind of visual blight and commercial sprawl that bedevils Route 3 motorists closer to Fredericksburg, participants in the planning process said.

Local landowner Chip King, whose family owns several square miles astride Wilderness Run in Orange and Spotsylvania counties northeast of the national park, lauded the multi-pronged planning effort.

“The gateway study presents Orange County with an extraordinary opportunity to effectively plan the development of the Route 3 corridor,” King said. “But its success will require the leadership and full support of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and all involved stakeholders.”

That sort of support for the detailed blueprint for 3,000 undeveloped acres north of Route 3 is remarkable when just two years ago, the parties were “slinging mud at one another,” in the words of one Orange supervisor, Nelson and Stach said.

Wal–Mart Stores Inc.’s plan to build a SuperCenter near Routes 3 and 20, a cannon-shot from the park, aroused national opposition and put the county in court versus preservation groups. Friends of Wilderness Battlefield’s lawsuit persuaded Walmart to change its mind.

The retailer now plans to build a store farther west along Route 3 near Germanna Community College’s Locust Grove campus.

Now, Phase II of the gateway study has produced a detailed blueprint for 3,000 undeveloped acres north of Route 3.

The plan recommends sites for the traditionally styled Wilderness Village, a business campus along Pilgrim Church Road and a regional park along the Rapidan, as well as new public infrastructure and a Route 3 commercial area with signage guidelines.

“We worked to find common ground and identify positive direction for win–win development and preservation solutions,” Nelson said. “Our group will continue discussing the plan with leaders in Orange County, neighboring counties, and with other key stakeholders to build active partnerships for implementation.”

Orange County, the Civil War Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and Piedmont Environmental Council contributed funding for the Phase II study.

Phase II plan:

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029