WASHINGTON -- Famous for its fall foliage, quaint towns and covered bridges, the state of Vermont - and its charm - is threatened by a corporate behemoth, a nonprofit preservation group warned on Monday.
The alleged culprit: Wal-Mart.
Because of plans for several new Wal-Mart Supercenters across the state, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed the entire state of Vermont on its 2004 list of the most endangered historic places in the United States.
The 10 other sites on the list include Nine Mile Canyon in Utah, with its 10,000 Native American rock-art images; the Ridgewood Ranch in northern California, the home and final resting place of legendary racehorse Seabiscuit; and Pennsylvania's Bethlehem Works steel plant.
Vermont is the only state ever to make the annual list in its entirety.
Richard Moe, president of the trust, said Vermont's "special magic" would vanish with the onslaught of the giant stores.
"Vermont is uniquely a state of small towns, and many of these downtowns would be decimated by this," Moe said. "A lot of small businesses just disappear in the face of a huge Wal-Mart."
Moe fears one giant retail store will attract others to the Green Mountain State. "It will totally change the character of Vermont over time, and that would be a tragedy," he said.
The state is making a rare reappearance on the trust's list. It was first listed back in 1993, when Vermont was the only state without a Wal-Mart, and the trust worried about impending plans for construction of several stores.
"We're not telling any communities that they shouldn't have a Wal-Mart," said Moe. "We simply want communities to have their eyes wide open when they make these decisions because it's within the ability of a community to affect the location, size and design of these stores."
One alternative, said Moe, would be to persuade the retailer to build smaller chains in existing buildings that have been abandoned or are otherwise not being used, saving rural landscapes and not having quite the devastating impact that a superstore would have.
Here is the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2004 list of the most endangered historic places in the United States, and the threats they face:
-Vermont: The state appeared on 1993 list because it faced onslaught of retail development. The National Trust said the threat is worse than ever, with Wal-Mart planning several new superstores that could spur sprawl, declining investment in downtowns, the loss of locally-owned businesses and the erosion of the state's unique sense of place.
-2 Columbus Circle, New York, N.Y: The new owner of the Manhattan building plans renovations, which could threaten the building's distinctive features that have made it an icon of modernist design.
-Ridgewood Ranch, Willits, Calif.: The final home and resting place of the legendary horse Seabiscuit is owned by a church association that lacks the resources to stabilize and maintain the 20 or so buildings that still stand.
-Bethlehem Steel Plant, Bethlehem, Pa.: The sprawling mill is threatened with demolition. Steel from the plant was used to build the White House, Empire State Building and Golden Gate Bridge.
-Elkmont Historic District, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.: The collection of modest wooden structures suffers from neglect and vandalism.
-Gullah/Geechee Coast, South Carolina and Georgia: The coastline is the homeland of descendants of slaves, who have managed to retain a distinctive culture, traditions and language. It is being overrun by sprawling new resorts, subdivisions and strip malls.
-Tobacco Barns, southern Maryland: Historic barns have been abandoned or are being demolished because of state-sponsored buyout to farmers.
-Madison-Lenox Hotel, Detroit: The owner wants to demolish a century-old hotel for a parking lot. The city's landmarks commission has refused to grant a demolition permit so the complex could be rehabilitated.
-Historic Cook County Hospital, Chicago: The historic hospital could be converted to housing and help bring vitality to its neighborhood, but it is slated for demolition instead.
-George Kraigher House, Brownsville, Texas: The 1937 house by famed architect Richard Neutra is vacant and is being destroyed by weather, neglect and vandalism.
-Nine Mile Canyon, Carbon and Duchesne counties, Utah: Encompassing an estimated 10,000 petroglyphs and pictographs, this site is threatened by extensive oil and gas exploration plans.
On the Net:
National Trust for Historic Preservation: http://www.nationaltrust.org
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