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Park Boundary and Related Lands Protection

Description: For decades managers of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia engaged local governments, landowners, and developers on issues of setbacks, rezoning, building design, site plans, buffers, and encroachments. Endless and exhausting, these negotiations usually took place without a formal structure or local ordinances intended to protect the park or mitigate adverse effects.

A highly effective partnership has evolved between Spotsylvania County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service to protect the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania Military Park, the park boundary, and lands related to the park story. This has resulted in the preservation of nearly 800 acres over the last 10 years.

In 1994, Spotsylvania County requested and received a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to inventory, assess, and prioritize significant non-NPS landscapes related to the four Civil War battles fought in Spotsylvania: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. The effort generated the Related Lands Database which identifies key sites and recommends strategies for their preservation. The database was completed by NPS Cultural Resource Manager Noel G. Harrison.

The initial vision for the Related Lands Database, was for Spotsylvania County to consider the key sites in their land use planning and to use creative development strategies for their preservation. While for political reasons this did not happen, the Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources found the Related Lands Database useful, as related below.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers administers the Clean Water Act, issuing permits for development projects that impact wetlands and "waters of the United States." In considering a permit request, the Corps must ensure the project complies with Section 106 which requires all projects subject to federal funding or permitting to be carried out in a manner that does not adversely impact historic resources eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When an adverse effect on historic resources cannot be avoided, the applicant must take steps to mitigate the damage done.

In the 1990s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Spotsylvania County and the National Park Service, developed the concept of "land as mitigation" within the context of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This concept had been widely used in the preservation of wetlands, but rarely if ever in connection with historic sites.

The work resulted in the establishment of permit conditions that require developers and/or landowners to mitigate the impact of their projects by setting aside core historic resources and ensuring their perpetual protection. While developers everywhere are required to comply with Section 106 when Federal funds or permitting is involved, Spotsylvania was the first community to comprehensively inventory-in advance of development proposals--Civil War lands related to a National Park Site. This approach has offered developers a degree of predictability not always present elsewhere, and the resulting cooperative effort has been successful to a degree unsurpassed elsewhere in the nation.

The partners signed a Memorandum of Agreement in 1998 that stipulates the process by which development projects affecting significant Civil War-related historic resources projects will be reviewed. This cooperative effort ensures that the Corps' permitting process, and the conditions placed upon an individual permit, are considered as the County moves forward with land-use decisions that affect historic resources. To a large degree, the success of the Corps' process has rendered specific action to protect historic resources by local government unnecessary, or at least less critical.

Geographic area covered: Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park contains approximately 8,350 acres and portions of each of the four major Civil War battlefields: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. All of the four battlefields are located in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Only a portion of each battlefield is protected by the National Park Service. Thousands of historically significant acreage lies outside the NPS boundary.

List partners and relationships: Spotsylvania County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the National Park Service.

Accomplishments to date: The preservation of more than 800 acres tied to a dozen land use development projects. Preserved areas range from easements covering just three acres within a subdivision to the dedicated preservation of more than 300 acres in a key historic area along the Rappahannock River. The results have been dramatic: accesses to historic park roads have been reduced, the viewshed along the park boundary protected, and lands away from the park that otherwise would not have received any protection have been preserved.

Key success factors:

  1. The shared desire by all parties to enhance and protect historic resources and the determination to identify historic resources in advance of their being threatened.
  2. The seminal dollars provided by the American Battlefield Protection Program that allowed for the accurate identification and prioritization of historic resources related to the four battles.
  3. The diligence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in implementing Section 106 as part of their review of permit applications under the Clean Water Act.
  4. The willingness of Spotsylvania County to ensure that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits and conditions are in place before taking action on issues of land use affecting historic resources.
  5. Support from the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation for the concept of land as mitigation, and their consistent endorsement of mitigation packages.
  6. Early consultation with developers and landowners, before plans are finalized. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers process-which includes pre-application consultation--provides the perfect means for early flagging of potential adverse impacts and proactive development of effective mitigation packages.
  7. Providing developers and landowners with a smooth, predictable and manageable process-avoiding the deadly results of preservation by ambush.
  8. The Section 106 process provides for public comment on impacts and mitigation. That public input has helped speed and lock in effective development solutions that help preserve historic resources.
  9. The development of a culture that encourages and applauds proactive efforts at preservation by developers and landowners.


  1. Failure to ensure the most effective and permanent means of protecting lands-deed restrictions vs easement, easements vs fee conveyance. The Corps's ability to stipulate the method of permanent protection is limited.
  2. Occasional and semi-successful attempts by applicants to divide and conquer by seeking individual consultation with parties to the Memorandum of Understanding rather than the signatories en masse. For example, a developer will sometimes seek an opinion from the NPS before consulting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, leaving the Corps in the awkward position of having to affirm or deny the opinion of the NPS.
  3. Occasional disagreements over what constitutes an appropriate level of mitigation.
  4. The hesitation of local government to act in the absence of Corps involvement. What was originally intended to be a program implemented largely through county land use decisions has become a program implemented solely through the Section 106 process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When a Corps permit is not involved, the county has been hesitant to use its authority-manifested largely in Virginia's "proffer" system, where developers are required to proffer benefits to offset the costs of a land-use action by the county-to ensure the preservation of key resources.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. A shared vision can in fact be articulated and achieved through governmental process.
  2. Rationality and predictability are most important to developers-they can manage most anything so long as they know it's coming.
  3. Constant communication among all parties to the agreement is critical to prevent a fragmented approach by involved parties.
  4. Even in the absence of political will among elected leaders, staff can achieve much that is good.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study): Noel G. Harrison, "Mitigating Effects to Battlefield Landscapes: A National Park Service-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Partnership," The George Wright Forum, Vol. 14:1 (1977).

For more information:

Name: John Hennessy
Affiliation: Chief Historian, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park
Phone/Fax: 540-654-5546

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources _X_; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations _X_;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: John Hennessy Date posted: 1/19/05
Phone: 540-654-5546

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