23 December 2021
An Open Letter to the People of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Blair County, and The City of Altoona.
What will the headline read?
"Sheetz Corporation Destroys 20-Acres of Historic and Culturally Significant Land in Virginia."
To the citizens of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Blair County, and the City of Altoona, to quote Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Written by Thomas Paine during the throes of the American Revolutionary war, on the eve of Christmas 245 years ago, 23 December 1776, the words of this Patriot resonate with us even more so today, as we collectively enter another Christmas season as a Nation.
As in 1776, during the War, the outcome of which would define a nation, no truer words were ever spoken to bolster the collective consciousness and ease the fears and frustration of a nation at war. As we look at our world today, these words still resonate with truth, capturing our collective and individual fears, frustrations, and struggles. Political and social differences that once sparked good and healthy classical debate, infused with decorum, politeness, and etiquette, now divide friend from friend and family from family on the slightest statement of a position. We live in a world where the depth and nuances of understanding opposing positions, is lost to the conflations of partisan interests and misinformed opinions echoed within and upon the light and transient platforms of social media and the 24/7 news cycle. It is for this reason, and for purpose of record, that I submit this document to the People of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in print.
This Christmas season, we, the residents of Frederick County, Virginia, find ourselves in, without fault of our own, such a time as Thomas Paine referred – a time that tries our souls, as we are engaged in a great struggle – a struggle to save our neighborhood, as well as two historically significant parcels of land totaling 19.5-acres from both the annexation desires of the Town of Middletown, Virginia, and the total development by the Sheetz Corporation of Altoona, Pennsylvania, of that land into a truck stop. To engage in that struggle, we have formed a coalition of neighbors. The Exit 302 Smart Development Coalition, this strong and resolute “band of neighbors,” seeks to prevent through productive, thoughtful, and meaningful dialogue, and through EPA guided smart development practices, the wholesale annexation and destruction of the beautiful natural rural landscape, environment, untouched history, and the rural lifestyle and culture of Frederick County, Virginia.
The 19.5-acre parcel (in total) in question is located outside of the legal boundaries of the Town of Middletown, Virginia, and is situated within Frederick County. The acreage is completely separated from Middletown by state owned land, Interstate 81. Interstate 81, Exit 302 is the dividing line between the Town of Middletown and Frederick County. Middletown lies on the west side of Exit 302 and Frederick County on the east. The “sharp distinction” between Middletown’s commercial development on the west side and Frederick County’s peaceful rural character and culture on the east, is exceptional, almost unprecedented in this day and age.
The only commercial development on the east side of Interstate 81, Exit 302, is a small, locally owned, rurally appropriate Exxon gas station, with a footprint of 2.67-acres. The 19.5, historically significant, acreage that Sheetz intends to develop into a truck stop is located directly across the road from the Exxon. Exxon is not annexed into Middletown; furthermore, sewer and water are non-existent at the proposed Sheetz 19.5-acre site.
The traveling public, residents of Frederick County, and Middletown are well served by the established Exxon, Liberty, and 7-11 service stations located at Exit 302, and there currently exists a distinct balance between urban and rural life.
Historically Significant Hallowed Ground
On October 19, 1864, Union and Confederate forces clashed in an all-day battle, in and around Middletown, Virginia - The Battle of Cedar Creek. The battlefield extends approximately 5 miles north and south and 3-4 miles east and west, with the northeastern most point on the east side of Exit 302.
The 19.5-acres under contract by the Sheetz Corporation, although zoned commercial with use as “by right,” is, in completeness, designated as core battlefield by the U.S. National Park Service. This acreage was the location of the right flank of the Confederate Army during the Battle of Cedar Creek. Core battlefield is considered an area where the bloodiest fighting occurred and includes:
“…only those places where the combat engagement and key associated actions and features were located; the core area includes, among other things, what often is described as "hallowed ground".
This 19.5 acres – this “hallowed ground” – is the only vestige of undeveloped core battlefield that exists on the east side of Interstate 81.
As Pennsylvanians, there is nothing that I can tell you about Civil War hallowed ground, as Civil War hallowed ground, and the sacrifices of the citizens of Pennsylvania, are forever weaved into the historic fabric of our great nation, into the fabric of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and ultimately into what it means to be a Pennsylvanian. The “…second bloodiest of the Shenandoah Valley campaigns,” the Battle of Cedar Creek resonates with Pennsylvanians, your ancestors, who fought not only on this hallowed ground*, but across the Cedar Creek battlefield.
Battery D, 1st Pennsylvania
Cavalry (*Union Left Flank)
6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Army Headquarters) *
14th Pennsylvania Cavalry*
17th Pennsylvania Cavalry*
18th Pennsylvania Cavalry
22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry*
“When Your Name Is Over the Door, It’s Different”
The Sheetz corporate website executive page states, “When your name is over the door, it’s different.” I would ask, how is it different? How is one Sheetz development any different than the other? What makes Sheetz different, if they disregard the impact of their corporate footprint without consideration for the uniqueness of the established people, significant historic value of the land, the existing rural culture, environment, and lifestyle in the areas they develop, in exchange for the financial prospects of a “transient public?”
What makes Sheetz different if they replicate a cookie cutter commercial footprint, location after location, without design considerations for the significance of the land, the people, and the culture impacted? As actions speak louder than words, the statement, “When your name is over the door, it’s different” is mere virtue signaling to the public and meaningless, unless the people who are impacted the most, their culture, their history, and their way of life are considered.
What does it take to reach Sheetz, and, in the larger debate, corporate America? To get them to the table of collaboration and to get them to see that people and environmental impact matter. That the best of the American landscape, our people, culture, history, and quality of life matter over purely economic interests. We still live in a country where the interests of the many over the interests of the few still has meaning. The value and importance of protecting the quality of life of the many versus the economic interests of the few, cannot be overstated. The importance of this principle has even been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. In SIERRA CLUB v. MORTON (1972), the Court recognized that:
“Aesthetic and environmental well-being, like economic well-being, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society, and the fact that particular environmental interests are shared by the many rather than the few does not make them less deserving of legal protection through the judicial process.”
An Appeal to the Citizens of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
After reaching out to Sheetz on November 3, 2021, (Sheetz Issue# 1837737) and receiving absolutely no response, we, the residents of Frederick County, Virginia, on this Christmas season, appeal upon the good citizens of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Blair County, the City of Altoona for your assistance. We ask your assistance in reaching out to the Sheetz Corporation of Altoona and request that they take this opportunity to do something different and unprecedented – enter in good faith dialogue with the Exit 302 Smart Development Coalition, our band of neighbors, whose voice and interests are impacted the most by their Middletown development, to:
On the eve of this Christmas season, reflecting upon the Christmas season of 1776, when neighbors living in thirteen separate and independent states, which included Pennsylvania and Virginia, banded together to stand for an idea – the right of a people to be secure in their natural rights and liberties, allowing them to determine their collective destiny, we, the residents of Frederick County, Virginia, find ourselves in a very similar struggle, 245 years later – the right to have a say in protecting our national, state, and local heritage and our collective destiny. At the center of this struggle is 19.5 acres of historically and culturally significant land. Ironically, the same parcel of land, which would be hard fought over 88 years after the Revolution, in October of 1864, is once again a point of contention. Musket and cannon have long given way to dialogue, open exchange of ideas, and collaboration. The latter of which, requires that both sides meet at the table.
We, the residents of Frederick County, Virginia, to ensure culturally appropriate rural development, seek effective dialogue with the Sheetz Corporation. We seek the open, fair, and equitable exchange of information and ideas in the development of the19.5-acre parcel of land, which supports, promotes, and results in balancing development interest with protecting and preserving our national, state, and local collective history, rural culture, and lifestyle.
Let the Headline Read:
"Sheetz Corporation Works with Local Residents to Preserve Historic and Culturally Significant Land Through Smart Development Practices at Their Newest Location."
With sincerity and appreciation to the People of the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Blair County, and the City of Altoona may you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, we thank you.
Robert L. Clark
The Exit 302 Smart Development Coalition