Officials tell park service they want comprehensive trail

Tourism pros like Star-Spangled Banner ideas

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

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A handful of historians and county workers from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties turned out to express their preferences and concerns regarding the National Park Service's proposed Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Scenic Byway on Thursday at Kings Landing Park.

After learning about three different trail management plan options, the general consensus preferred the third alternative, a plan that would involve the most collaboration and recreational learning for visitors along the trail, a 20-year plan designed to connect the people, places and events of the War of 1812 in a way that guides tourists through 300 miles of land and water activities in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The first option would leave the level of coordination among the NPS and county agencies involved with the trail, or as project manager Suzanne Copping described it, "the no action plan." The second would involve more coordination but would focus primarily on the Chesapeake campaign of the summer of 1814, where visitors would follow the movement of British and American troops and might listen to a podcast along the way, stop at pull-offs like informational kiosks or museums like Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum and focus more on learning experiences than recreation.

But the third would involve the most coordination, focusing on all of the events of the war in the Chesapeake and even tying into other historical, recreational trails like Captain John Smith Chesapeake and Potomac Heritage trails. The third option also would involve more partnerships with recreational groups and watershed and land protection groups, Copping said.

"It would be a more diffused experience," Copping said. "There would be more anchor points for visitors to come and get a little more information. They might rent a bike and follow the trail the British took. Then they might pick up a kayak and learn about John Smith as they kayak up the Patuxent."

Among the many presentation attendees who preferred the third option was Joyce Baki, Calvert County tourism specialist, who said she already is preparing for visitors.

"I'm already starting to advertise with an international consortium because we're expecting a lot of international tourists, so they will come down to Calvert County from Baltimore and visit Solomons and Jefferson Patterson Park," she said.

Baki said she also is looking at ways to tie together different county events related to the War of 1812 to make them more cohesive for the banner trail.

"I know the library is doing things, and museums in other parts of the county," she said. "It's a plan that keeps building so as it goes along and we decide to do more, it may become more enhanced. ... You get them down here, we'll find ways to keep them occupied for as long as we can possibly keep them here."

That very concept, however, was what concerned Charles County Historical Society member George Howard Post, the coordinator of trail events for Charles.

"We really don't know what to expect or what to prepare for," he said, adding that the 200-year anniversary of the war is right around the corner.

"If you're going to throw a party, you want to know how many guests will be at the dinner table."

While Copping said there are no solid estimates of how many numbers each region is going to see at this point, Baki said they should not be unmanageable since most people will gravitate toward more well-known cities like Baltimore and the District.

"I don't think in the Southern Maryland region that we're going to see the huge crowds in 2012 that Baltimore is going to see," she said.

Roz Racanello, executive director of the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium, said she was less concerned about crowds and more worried about funding for the third option.

"This is my preference so we can work together, build it, have people come and enjoy it, but I'm a little concerned about the timing at this point," she said.

However, Copping said once the plan is finalized, which should occur next winter, the project will be eligible for more grants, adding that it already received $1.8 million in federal grant funding to put toward 150 signs, a travel guide, a film for public TV and bridge art.

"We're going to look at what opportunities are available in the short term to make this trail really visible," she said.

Grace Mary Brady, St. Mary's County historic preservation planner, asked how the signs would be distributed and was reassured that they would be sent directly to her to distribute countywide.

She also pointed out that she favors the second and third alternatives since on the banner trail map for the first alternative, there are no St. Mary's sites specifically listed for tourists because the county was less involved in the war than the rest of Southern Maryland. Sotterley Plantation, a national historic landmark in Hollywood, pops up as a suggested site, however, on the two more collaborative management alternatives.