Yes, we really can protect viewsheds – first, identify what places are worth special consideration
The Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) will get an update on Tuesday on the Manassas Battlefields Viewshed Study. The National Park Service is using a $60,000 grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program that the BOCS endorsed in 2006.
The public will get a chance to comment on the study next January, including the designation of 25 significant views – 10 Public Vantage Points (PVPs) and 15 less-significant Historically Based Viewsheds (HBVs).
Why should Prince William care? Manassas National Battlefield Park is our golden goose, laying golden eggs. Even if you don’t appreciate history… tourism at the first major Civil War battlefield creates jobs and generates tax revenue for the county.
If we allow suburban sprawl to obscure our historical settings, so visitors see townhouses and convenience stores when they’re trying to imagine the experience of soldiers in battle in the 1860′s, then those visitors will go home unsatisfied. They will tell their friends “Don’t bother to go to Prince William, there’s nothing special to see there. Go see Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg…”
After all, no one plans a trip just to see another 7-11 or typical subdivision. Tourists go great distances to see something special.
We know we have special places in Prince William, and county officials are already planning for the Sesquicentennial of the Virginia Civil War. If we protect our local battlefields, including Bristoe and Buckland, then the 150th anniversary of First Manassas in 2011 and Second Manassas in 2012 could bring a surge of visitors. When Civil War sites are protected enough to justify more than just a quick glimpse out the car window, then tourists will stay long enough to buy meals and rent motel rooms. That’s when local communities get an economic boost from tourism.
Realistically, the county and the National Park Service can’t protect the historical views from every vantage point in Manassas National Battlefield Park. Some of the 10 “Public Vantage Points” have already been transformed in part by modern development:
- if you stand where Jefferson Davis and his Confederate generals met at the Portici house after the battle of First Manassas, your eyes and ears will be filled by the constant traffic on I-66
- the view from the Henry House, where the one civilian casualty occurred in the First Battle of Manassas, is affected by a modern intrusion: the 1940′s visitor center for the park
- the Stuart Hill site, though protected by last-minute Congressional action to block a massive subdivision and shopping center planned by the Hazel/Peterson companies, has a new powerline just built on the other side (it was moved over there to protect the more-important vista from the hill)
If we can’t protect everything, should we do nothing? Spottsylvania County has created the worst example of doing nothing – check out the strip shopping centers surrounding Salem Church battlefield near Fredericksburg, next time you’re on Route 3.
Prince William officials could just file away the information from the Manassas Battlefield viewshed analysis. If we do nothing, we’ll lose tourism revenue. National Park Service statistics show that visits to Manassas Battlefield have already dropped by 50% since 1997, due to increased traffic congestion. We’re slowly killing the golden goose of Prince William’s tourism potential.
We need to shape development on the periphery of the national park – and at Thoroughfare Gap, Bristoe, Buckland… The Comprehensive Plan’s Cultural Resources Chapter calls for viewshed protection near over 50 County Registered Historic Sites. How do we get started protecting them?
Manassas Battlefield started by identifying 25 key locations. We should do the same at other County Registered Historic Sites in Prince William. The proposed Environment Chapter has guidance to get this process started: “Prepare a viewshed preservation plan that incorporates site plans and building designs that protect the existing visual quality and natural resource values that make these areas distinctive.”
Let’s start by identifying the Public Vantage Points and Historically Based Viewsheds that consider the views on the periphery, outside the 19-acre boundaries of the only designated Historic Overlay District in Prince William: Buckland.