Sometimes, acting locally means thinking regionally.
One of CFFC’s most passionate endeavors took place not in Fauquier’s backyard, but in the neighbor’s. In 1994, Walt Disney proposed a massive development at Haymarket in Prince William County, called Disney’s America, designed to imitate and rival the success of Colonial Williamsburg. The governor and state legislature seemed all but ready to sign on the dotted line, giddy about the untold number of jobs and tax revenue the entertainment conglomerate promised.
No matter that the amusement park and its auxiliary construction would endanger the water supply and contribute to increasing air pollution. No matter that the employees who came to work for Disney would arrive needing affordable housing, seats in classrooms, and passable roads. No matter that those jobs would be low-wage, seasonal positions, throwing unemployment and welfare programs into constant upheaval. No matter that the very history Disney claimed to want to celebrate would be paved over and degraded, simplified and dumbed down into 60-second animatronic scripts.
It didn’t take a land-use expert to know that a 400-acre theme park with an additional 1.9 million square-feet of office and retail space — along with a golf course, campgrounds, and hotels — four miles down the road would significantly impact Fauquier County. CFFC joined the growing chorus of voices against the project and worked to galvanize its base to lend a hand in battle. Not only would the development threaten the county’s way of life, Fauquier wouldn’t see a dime of tax breaks despite bearing a heavy burden of visitors and new residents should the plan be realized.
Using tactics honed over thirty years of activism, CFFC provided support to the Piedmont Environmental Council and various Prince William citizens groups. CFFC ran an ad once a week for ten weeks in the Fauquier Citizen-Democrat urging residents to get involved in the protest. Each week, the number of organizations who signed the ad grew. The ads were hand-delivered to every legislator in Richmond.
CFFC also dedicated the bulk of 1994’s volumes of the Monitor to give a voice to the regional dissent and rallied attendees to join the march on Washington against Disney. During the march, Hope Porter unrolled hundreds of feet of anti-Disney petitions.
Still, efforts to defeat Disney based on its infrastructural and environmental impacts faltered, as a newly-elected governor handed Disney a blank check a year into debate.
So one of CFFC’s loudest and most eloquent voices, Julian Scheer, co-founded Protect Historic America (PHA), launching a national public relations campaign to persuade Americans that the Disney dispute was much bigger than Northern Virginia. Its spokesmen included historians David McCullough and James McPherson. The campaign was successful in its effort to coalesce a country-wide reaction to Disney’s tacky, ill-advised venture in, as PHA called it, “Democracy’s cradle.” It managed to convince the Department of the Interior to conduct a lengthy environmental impact study that would delay construction for dozens of months.
Members of Scheer’s expertly-executed campaign were at the table when Disney decided to abandon their Haymarket project. On September 29, 1995, Disney announced their withdrawal from Virginia.
CFFC board member Georgia Herbert was there. She told the Washingtonian: “We all cried when we heard. It was such a great day.” It was a great day for Fauquier County, for the region, and for America. Not Disney’s America, but the real one.