The Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, Va.

The Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, Va.

Buddy Secor

Struggle Against Mega-development at Wilderness Battlefield Continues

The controversial Wilderness Crossing proposal stands to see a massive development — including millions of square feet of data centers — impinging on the battlefield’s historic landscape. 

Most Endangered

On May 1, the dire situation at the Wilderness, where the American Battlefield Trust is engaged in a lawsuit to block construction of the Wilderness Crossing project and its data center mega-development, landed the site on the 2024 list of the country’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Read the official announcement from the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition. 

Join historic preservation activists from across the nation by signing our petition urging protection of the Wilderness — and the numerous Virginia battlefields threatened by data center developments. 

You can also make a donation specifically to support the Trust’s advocacy work on behalf of hallowed ground, helping defray our legal costs at the Wilderness and Manassas, and holding the line against inappropriate development elsewhere.  

Sign the Petition  Donate to Support Advocacy  


On the same evening it first appeared on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda, the Wilderness Crossing project — by far the largest rezoning in Orange County history — was approved despite overwhelming public opposition. Moreover, the plan voted on by the Board of Supervisors differed significantly from what was discussed and advanced by the Planning Commission just a few weeks prior. Yet, much of this pertinent information was intentionally obscured and not appropriately evaluated.

Identifying significant failures in both the substance of the proposal and the process by which it was approved, the Trust believes that the rezoning vote was fundamentally flawed and, together with other regional nonprofits and private citizens, filed a legal challenge in Orange County Circuit Court in May 2023. A second, parallel suit against the County filed by the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) over alleged violations of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act revealed that Amazon has been behind the controversial proposal since at least April 2022

Our discovery filing demands that the Board produce all proposed plans for the Wilderness Crossing project, much of which should have been previously disclosed to the public. They must also explain their troubling contention that the noise, odor, light, diminished views and runoffs that would be caused by development of more than 2,600 acres are “not actual harms” to area landowners. They must also defend their last-minute six-fold increase in permitted square footage of industrial data center and warehouse distribution building space, among other changes, did not “materially affect” the “overall proposal.” 

The Wilderness, Orange County, Va.
A rainbow at The Wilderness Battlefield, Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, Va.,
This is an image of the iconic structure at Ellwood Manor— a structure still standing near the Wilderness Battlefield.


A massive residential and commercial development – the largest in Orange County history – has been proposed at the gateway to the Wilderness Battlefield where it would impact adjacent core battlefield land and loom over the Congressionally authorized boundary of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields National Military Park. At stake is the rezoning of more than 2,600 acres that could result in: more than 5,000 residential units, 200,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial development, and 732 acres of data centers and distribution warehouses. 

What are data centers?

It isn’t just the battlefield that stands to suffer. If this mega-development is allowed to move forward, growth will come at the cost of current residents’ quality of life. Already congested roadways will be utterly overwhelmed by nearly 50,000 new vehicle trips along the area’s major arteries each day. Resident services will be stretched to the breaking point and beyond.

Once again, we ask local residents and preservationists advocates to take a stand against this massive development project near the Wilderness Battlefield. Please speak out today to demand the county adhere to its own guidance for development in this sensitive area.

A map of the Wilderness Crossing Community Master Plan
The Wilderness Crossing mega-development is poised to bring huge swaths of development across multiple categories – from single-family homes to data centers, distribution warehouses and other light-industrial uses. See an enlarged map and key in the Wilderness Crossing Design Guidelines Manual.

Past Threats

Worse still, the current controversy is centered on a site we’ve fought for before. For several years, preservationists engaged in an advocacy campaign urging Walmart to relocate a proposed supercenter away from the gateway area. In 2013, that situation was fully resolved in win-win fashion when Walmart opened a store a short distance away and even donated the original 50-acre site to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Instead of being satisfied with that result, the preservation community decided to be proactive. The Wilderness Gateway Study – a multi-year community discussion spearheaded by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition and undertaken by the Hill Studio consulting firm – sought to establish a clear vision for the land surrounding Wilderness Battlefield, blending preservation and development as a gateway to the battlefield, associated landscape, and the community of Eastern Orange County.

In 2015, Orange County created its own Germanna Wilderness Area Plan that outlines need for a higher standard of design — centered around the community’s connectivity. Similarly, the Wilderness Battlefield Gateway Study — developed on behalf of the Trust and its partners — advocated for a model of development that would emphasize preservation of open space while allowing development to the Route 3/Route 20 intersection that would preserve the county’s rural lifestyle while minimizing damage to the battlefield. 

Unfortunately, the current Wilderness Crossing proposal abandons the goals, philosophies and hard-won wisdom that underpin these documents.  

Park Day at The Wilderness Battlefield
A wheat field with a tree in the distance.
After the Battle of the Wilderness, near Fredericksburg

Gateway Study

Phase I

In April 2012, after more than a year of public meetings and intense research, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition announced the findings of its study of the Wilderness Battlefield gateway region. The objective of the study was to present potential, preservation-friendly development patterns and strategies that support heritage tourism while simultaneously providing services for residents, improving economic vitality in the Wilderness Region. 

Throughout the course of a year, the team – full of landscape architects, planners, economists, transportation engineers, public and private stakeholders representatives – discussed land development and preservation issues in the area. Led by Virginia-based consulting firm Hill Studio, the team met with the entire group of stakeholders three times over the course of the project, and held two larger gatherings open to the general public. Additionally, the team also held a series of individual meetings with local leaders and members of the media to provide updates on the project’s progress. 

The recommendations of Phase I were diverse and multi-faceted and included three scenario concepts that illustrated different combinations of the development patterns recommended in the report by Hill Studio.

Phase II 

In November 2012, Phase II of the Wilderness Battlefield gateway report was released. The report was a result of the continuous intensive discussions among participating stakeholders and provided a consensus-based Preferred Development Plan for the Wilderness Battlefield gateway area. 

The Preferred Development Plan recommended a more specific, desired location for a traditional, mixed-use Wilderness Village, planned business campus, guideline commercial area for Route 3, supported public infrastructure, and a regional park along the Rapidan River. The collaborative work refined the three scenario concepts that were presented in Phase I of the study and established focused direction for managing development in the gateway area. The Plan integrated the cultural resource, economic and transportation analysis of the initial study and used a recommended “kit of parts” to promote desired conservation and development patterns. The vision outlined in the Phase II report represented an important milestone in advancing land planning for the gateway.

The collaborating parties intended the Preferred Development Plan to be a document-of-reference for the Orange County Comprehensive Plan, to encourage planned, compatible develop appropriate to the gateway’s historic setting.  Elements of the Gateway Study were ultimately incorporated into the County’s Germanna Wilderness Area Plan.