Publication Date

February 8, 2007

Thematic

Urban

The U.S. Bureau of the Census recently reported that there are now more than 300 million Americans consuming food, land, water, and other natural resources at an incredible rate. While most of us acknowledge that America’s current consumption habits cannot be maintained without diminishing our quality of life, too few of us are willing to make the personal sacrifices that might make things more sustainable. Unfortunately, one of the first casualties of our seemingly insatiable appetites may be our history.

Case in point: in the summer of 2006, a development company in West Virginia dispatched a work crew to lay sewer and water pipes on land owned by the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Although the company never obtained any permits for the dig, it did manage to bring along three attorneys and an off-duty policeman to intimidate anyone who might try to stop it. The result was an unsightly, and illegal, gash on public land where in 1862 Stonewall Jackson engineered the capture of 12,500 Union troops. When a concerned eyewitness tried to photograph the illicit activity, one of the company’s representatives churlishly flashed his middle finger at the camera. A spokesman from the National Park Service called the project “the worst violation of a battlefield national park in Park Service history.” For more information about this travesty, please see the web page set up by the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) and the letter by CWPT president Jim Lighthizer.

By running sewer and water lines through the Harpers Ferry Battlefield, these unscrupulous developers could go ahead with plans to build over 3,000 new homes on a nearby piece of private property. Of course, they’re not the only ones putting profits ahead of preservation. Developers all over the country are pressuring local governments to cede more and more land for homes, shopping centers, and parking lots. In Virginia, builders are pushing to have the area around the Wilderness Battlefield rezoned so they can erect 8,000 new houses. In Georgia, urban sprawl is swallowing up the small forts called “Shoupades” that were used by General Joe Johnston to defend Atlanta. And in Pennsylvania, concerned citizens only narrowly defeated a proposal to build a casino a mile from the hallowed ground at Gettysburg. Our history and culture are being bulldozed into oblivion one acre at a time.

The good news is that we can do something to stop this onslaught. E-mail your elected officials and tell them that you support smart growth policies (learn more at Smart Growth.org and Smart Growth America). Make a donation to a historic preservation society. And if you live in a major metropolitan area, consider buying a home closer to the city. Together, we can make sure that historic parks are available to future generations.

Visit the National Park Service Battlefield Protection Program site for more information on protecting historic battlefields.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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