It’s more than real estate
There’s a town called Buckland, Virginia, where most residents love the land. It’s not the escalating real estate values they love, but the land itself and what it means for this 18th-century community.Buckland is what preservationists call a “cultural landscape.” Scenic horse pastures with grazing thoroughbreds hark to the traditional use of that land when it was first settled in 1774 as an early example of pastoral America.Buckland was featured recently by Reuters News Service because it defies the trend toward strip malls and sprawling suburbs that today threatens most small, attractive communities. Buckland has defied what the Roaring Fork Valley seems more and more to represent – a booming economy based on land development and real estate profits.Residents of Buckland would rather preserve their cultural landscape than make a killing destroying it. Instead of allowing real estate speculation to drive the economy, residents of Buckland celebrate their heritage.Buckland became a town in 1798, and George Washington visited there during his presidency. According to Reuters, a Civil War battle was fought along the banks of the creek that goes through town, and an early turnpike brought commerce to the area.Buckland served for a while as a mill town, but when the mill failed, the economy busted. Circumstances left Buckland as what Reuters calls “a well-preserved time capsule of the mid-19th century.”Aspen has strong similarities to Buckland. Carved from a mountain wilderness less than 150 years ago, Aspen quickly grew into a thriving mining town. When the silver economy crashed, Aspen became a well-preserved time capsule until the late 1940s.Aspen’s cultural landscape is not the same as its historic designation. The cultural landscape defines a far broader sense of place than a focused historic interpretation. The cultural landscape of the Roaring Fork Valley is based on its endangered rural character.Our local governments have neither the clout nor the resolve to preserve the cultural landscape. Governments can preserve historic elements, but the overarching cultural landscape is doomed unless land owners – the people – take an active interest.In Buckland, Route 29 is threatening to invade the “time capsule,” and residents are campaigning for a bypass. They don’t want Buckland to become just another suburb of Washington, D.C.Said one Buckland resident of the cultural landscape he so deeply values: “This is so much greater to us, all of us who live here, than just getting a big price and moving on. I couldn’t sleep nights. I think we all feel that way.”If only that feeling were mutual in other cherished small towns. Instead, real estate fortunes are made by destroying what Buckland residents love. The “big price” and the “moving on” have become commonplace in the Roaring Fork Valley.Selling out and turning your back on a place that provided one’s cultural landscape is widely regarded as the only sound choice for property owners here. Preservation is viewed an unnecessary sacrifice when fortunes are to be made in land development.”The nation’s historic working landscapes, the cornerstone of the American experience, are being erased by residential and industrial sprawl,” warns the Washington-based Cultural Landscape Foundation. “Many working landscapes are rich in cultural values, often identified with a community, an ethnic group or a site that reflects the cultural identity of everyday people who shaped the landscape.”Identity with a community is important to some. Others deride it as a nostalgic or sentimental obstacle to personal riches. Self-interest propels the liquidation of cultural landscapes like the Roaring Fork’s under the overbearing rationale of economics. Only the few citizens and the rare land preservation groups dare to intone the deeper heritage values.Paul Andersen thinks we’ll miss it when it’s gone. His column appears on Mondays.