Judging by the Hogback Mountain Gift Shop along Route 9 in southern Vermont, this state remains a land of historical, rustic charm. Inside, it offers maple syrup, local crafts and a chance to tour the museum of wildlife taxidermy. Outside, the steep green hills roll away south to Massachusetts.
But looks can be deceiving, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which believes Vermont is in danger of succumbing to "Sprawl-Mart," the kind of development that has devoured large chunks of the American landscape.
To prevent this, the Trust is taking the unprecedented step of designating an entire state No. 1 on its annual list of "endangered" historic places. Scheduled for official release today, the list of 11 places also includes Thomas Edison's invention factory, in West Orange, N.J., downtown New Orleans, and Brandy Station Battlefield in Culpeper County, Va., site of the Civil War's largest cavalry battle.
But Richard Moe, president of the National Trust _ a congressionally chartered non-profit group _ said Tuesday that the group felt the biggest threat to historic preservation this year was in Vermont.
Noting that the listing of an entire state was unprecedented, Moe said, "We think it's justified in this case for two reasons: the unique nature of Vermont and the unique nature of the threat it faces through the intrusion of unplanned and uncontrolled development of large shopping malls, which threaten to suck the economic vitality of towns nearby."
Vermont is indeed a place of small towns. Its population is just 562,758. The largest city, Burlington, has 37,000 people.
Moe said the National Trust considers the biggest threat to Vermont to be giant discount retailers like Wal-Mart, which he said "suck money out of small and medium-sized towns."
"These places are changing the face of small-town America," Moe said.