Supporters of The Journey Through Hallowed Ground testified Sept. 28 before the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks on legislation that would establish the Route 15 corridor as a National Heritage Area.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) and Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of The Journey Through Halowed Ground Partnership, tesitified Thursday about the importance of preserving the history along the corridor.
"We want to let the whole country know this is where America happened," Wyatt said. "We want to bring our history and heritage alive for residents and visitors."
The congressional hearing was the latest step towards passing legislation sponsored by Wolf and U.S. Sen. George Allen (R) that would give the Route 15 corridor a federal honorary designation, acknowledging historical importance of the area.
The Jounrey Through Hallowed Ground is a 175-mile stretch of highway from Gettysburg, Pa. to Charlottesville, Va. The area includes eight presidential homes and numerous Civil War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 historic sites. There are 23 sites in Loudoun County, including Ball's Bluff Battlefield, Oatlands and the Mount Zion Old School Baptist Church.
"Designation of this historic route as a National Heritage Area will create a partnership between the federal, state and local governments as well as local business and civic organizations to commemorate, conserve and promote the history and resources along the corridor," Wolf said at the hearing.
THE PARTNERSHIP has several main goals, Wyatt said, one of the biggest of which is the education program.
"We want to be able to create programs for education as well as tourism," she said. "We want people to understand the cultural and historical benefits available within the corridor."
For historic sites and landowners along the Route 15 corridor, The Journey Through Hallowed Ground is an opt-in program, Wyatt said.
"There is no financial obligation," she said. "Those that see it is in their benefit to join, can. This is just an offered opportunity."
Wyatt said that a site, such as Oatlands, can use the partnership to expand their educational opportunities.
"Creating things like field trips give them the opportunity to engage students of all ages so they physically understand the creation of America," Wyatt said.
Wyatt said the partnership will work on developing programs at the sites that meet Standards of Learning and can be translated into the classrooms.
"We want the classrooms to be able to extend beyond their reach," she said.
The only requirement on landowners and owners of historic places is that they learn about other sites in The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Wyatt said.
"We ask that they take the time to learn the history of the whole Journey Through Hallowed Ground area," she said. "We want this to be a cohesive area."
THOSE OPPOSED TO The Journey Through Hallowed Ground are not convinced the program will protect the property rights of Loudoun landowners and are concerned about the impact the historic designation will have on the improvements planned for Route 15.
"We are always concerned about any and all restrictions on landowners," Jack Shockey, president of the Loudoun group, Citizens for Property Rights, said. "By layering [the area] with more federal regulations, it will be harder for people to build on their property. You are going to take some value from property owners.
Many supporters of The Journey Through Hallowed Ground use the Route 11 corridor in the Shenendoah Valley as an example of what will happen along Route 15, but, Shockey said, Route 11 has one major difference: it runs parallel to Interstate 81.
"We don't have that parallel road here," he said. "Route 15 is the only way to get through that area. It is a little premature to be layering more restrictions on it."
Shockey said Route 15's two lanes are too dangerous as they are now and adding extra traffic from tourists would only make them worse. He added that the historical importance of the area will either stand on its own or it will not.
"Any time a confederate soldier's horse [relieved himself] doesn't make a spot historical," Shockey said.
WHILE MANY local governments along the Route 15 corridor have passed resolutions supporting The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors has not.
At their Feb. 7 business meeting, supervisors voted 4-4-1 against supporting the program. Supervisors Scott K. York (I-At large), Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) voted to support the program and Supervisors Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) was absent for the vote.
Although the issue has not be reconsidered by the board, Wyatt said she hopes the board will decide to support the project.
"The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is the only county or local government in 175 miles that has not taken this up in public forum," she said. "We would invite the board to take a look at this again."
Kurtz, whose district is home to many of Loudoun's historic sites, said she thinks the county should be involved in The Journey Through Hallowed Ground.
"It is a chance to be a part of promoting a rural economic enterprise," she said. "What's not to love about it?"
Wolf said he and other supporters of the bill will continue to push for the passing of the legislation, but, he said, it might take time.
"It took several years to pass the legislation in the Shenandoah Valley," he said. "But I have made it clear that I want to work with those people who have concerns about the program."