The National Trust for Historic Preservation has once again put the entire state of Vermont on its list of "endangered" historic places. The last listing was in 1993.
This time, the Trust warns that the danger lies mainly in Wal-Mart's plan to "saturate" Vermont with seven "behemoth" megastores. It contends all that development could degrade the Green Mountain State's unique sense of place and lead to empty stores in historic downtowns. A Wal-Mart official says the Trust ignores the "convenience, jobs, and tax revenue" Wal-Mart can bring to the state.
The debate the Trust creates, if a bit overblown, is nonetheless useful. It's hard to imagine all those Wal-Marts are needed in a place with just 608,827 people. In one California city, citizens recently said no to a new Wal-Mart in a referendum. Vermonters could easily repeat that wonder.
As it happens, Vermonters have put up more obstacles to Wal-Mart and sprawl than just about anywhere else. In 1993, Wal-Mart had to scale back its plans and built only four smaller stores. The Trust then removed Vermont from its list.
Just two months ago, National Geographic named Vermont as one of the top destinations in the world for its preserved rural character. Quaintness is a hot attraction, and the state sells that to millions of Americans who see Vermont as their favorite pet state.
Its citizens must be able to find a balance between their desire for low-priced goods and high-priced tourism and lifestyles.