What was the time period of the campaign?
November, 1993 – September 28, 1994.
Where was the park going to be located?
Just outside Haymarket, Virginia—less than 5 miles west of Manassas National Battlefield Park, and less than 30 miles west of Washington, DC.
Why was Haymarket the “wrong” place for Disney’s proposed theme park?
- There is no public transit to Haymarket, Virginia, even though Washington, DC has a major metrorail system. The automobile-dependent location would have added immensely to the region’s already congested traffic and air pollution problems.
- Disney never identified a water supply sufficient to meet the needs of its theme park and surrounding development. The water supply in the northern Virginia suburbs is limited and difficult to expand; a project of this size would have had implications for water throughout Northern Virginia.
- A study also outlined detrimental effects to the aquifer below the region, and to Bull Run, the creek which gives the Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of Manassas) its name.
- Haymarket is near the Manassas National Battlefield Park, and several other nearby battlefields including Thoroughfare Gap and Aldie. Manassas was the site of the first major battle of the war in 1861 and when the second battle was fought in 1862 some 18,000 soldiers were killed or wounded at this site. The sprawl that would have resulted from the Disney project would have impacted these nearby battlefields.
- Analyses were showing that after a Disney park came to town, the surrounding region could expect at least a 20-mile radius of collateral development—as seen in Orlando, FL and Anaheim, CA. The surrounding area is a mix of rural countryside and small towns, with historic vistas seen by the founders of the country, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. American History can be studied on the battlefields of the Civil War nearby, or in Washington, DC itself – a theme park on this topic was not necessary or desirable here.
What were some of the strategies that made the campaign successful?
- Many organizations—local, regional and national—and countless individuals stepped forward to bring their expertise to the campaign. A variety of approaches were welcomed and included.
- Consistent with social impact networks today, there was no central organization. Once the campaign heated up, the Prince Charitable Trusts provided a coordinator to inform and support the multiple initiatives.
- Mickey Mouse, the symbol of the Disney Corporation, is an internationally-known icon. Mickey provided a recognizable and easy target for caricature and humor—which helped the campaign stay positive.
- The campaign began with local opposition, but grew to have regional and national implications and publicity. It became too big for the Disney Corporation to manage or out-maneuver.
- The environmental groups raised policy issues of traffic-generation, air pollution impacts, and the cost to the entire region that could take years to resolve. The Disney Corporation reached a point where they had to commit to purchase land for the park – at a time when it was clear that opposition could hold-up construction for an undetermined amount of time. Company leaders recognized that was not going to be a wise business decision.
What has been the legacy of the campaign?
- The victory left people in the region with a sense of hope. As Chris Miller said on the 20-year anniversary of the fight, “It was a big fight and a good fight—a fight made possible by long list of wonderful and talented people. Our coalition included some of the best organizations and thinkers in conservation, historic preservation, and sound land use planning—and we showed the entire nation that a grassroots movement is capable of taking on the Goliaths of the world, like The Walt Disney Company.”
- The Piedmont Environmental Council went on to become one of the most effective community-based conservation organizations in the country. Its work has helped more than 370,000 acres of land to be permanently protected in the Virginia Piedmont.
- In the years after Disney, many of the partners came together to launch The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of the unparalleled American heritage found in the 180-mile long, 75-mile wide area stretching from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville. In 2008, Congress recognized the Journey Through Hallowed Ground as a National Heritage Area. The Journey offers maps, authentic heritage tourism programs and award-winning educational programs for students of all ages.
- Within the area of the Journey designated “Where America Happened,” there are 9 Presidential homes and sites, 18 National and State Parks, 1,000’s of historical sites, 57 historic towns & villages, 21 historic homes and 100’s of Civil War Battlefields available for visitors to explore. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground has created maps and coordinated information and publicity for the corridor so historians and visitors of all types are able enjoy the full spectrum of the region’s historic, cultural and environmental resources.
- The Disney Campaign catalyzed the smart growth movement in the DC metropolitan area. The Coalition for Smarter Growth was formed and continues to promote reinvestment in existing communities and walkable neighborhoods connected by transit-oriented development.