Defenders of New Mexico Heritage & Wilderness Battlefield Coalition

*United States

Award Type: John H. Chafee Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy

Two advocacy coalitions from opposite ends of the country—Defenders of New Mexico Heritage and Virginia’s Wilderness Battlefield Coalition—proved what grassroots preservation advocacy can achieve. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition worked to protect the historic Wilderness Battlefield in the face of encroachment by Walmart. The Defenders of New Mexico Heritage worked to defeat legislative erosion of New Mexico’s historic preservation laws, saving sites such as New Mexico’s Mount Taylor.

In January 2011, the mining industry and its allies attempted to essentially repeal New Mexico’s 42-year-old Cultural Properties Act, one of the strongest such laws in the nation, to gain uranium mining rights to Mount Taylor. Mount Taylor is a designated Cultural Property that possesses a wealth of ancient archeological sites and pilgrimage trails. But an informal coalition of individuals, organizations, Tribes and Pueblos known as Defenders of New Mexico Heritage mounted an opposition that succeeded in keeping the law intact.

Walmart's decision to build a massive big-box development on the hallowed ground of Virginia’s Wilderness Battlefield seemed like a done deal. The only thing standing in the retailer’s way was a coalition of non-profits and their secret weapons: grassroots activism and “the Rosenbaum effect.” Retired DC lawyer Bob Rosenbaum donated his formidable intelligence, policy savvy and legal expertise to the cause, and combined with the power of local activists, it was enough to turn the tide. To its credit, Walmart changed its plans in January 2011, sparing the irreplaceable Civil War battlefield.

"While each is unique, this year’s outstanding award winners all reflect the importance of protecting what is special and irreplaceable," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  "Without the leadership and around-the-clock dedication of the Defenders of new Mexico Heritage, Mount Taylor and all of New Mexico’s cultural resources would be endangered by a weakened Cultural Properties Act. Across the country, sacred ground where soldiers fought and died would have been destroyed by commercial development were it not for the courage and skill of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition."