No other state is likely to match the events planned for Maryland during the Columbus Quincentenary next year. There won't be any official festivals dedicated Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the New World 500 years ago in 1492. Maryland's activities will be strikingly different.
Private, civic and artistic groups will sponsor dozens of Columbus celebrations during 1992 throughout the state. Rather than duplicate these efforts, the Governor's Commission for the Columbus Commemoration opted for a novel approach. It is dwelling less on the historic aspects of the quincentenary than on cultural changes -- good and bad -- that have shaped the face of this country.
A key contribution from the panel will be development of a multi-media "cultural/geographic enrichment kit" for every school in Maryland highlighting the numerous heritages of this country. It is designed as an on-going project that holds great promise as a teaching tool describing influences that have shaped the nation since Columbus first set foot on this continent.
The panel also decided that since Maryland has no direct link to Columbus, it should use the year to stress this state's greatest natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay, and to draw local and national attention to the bay's problems and its wonders. A total of 1,992 events are planned, including shoreline cleanups, ecology field trips, yachting events, nautical expositions, lectures, a "Tall Ships" visit and the formal groundbreaking of the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration, a $165 million venture that will herald this state's entry into the high-tech 21st century.
No event, though, will be as startling to Columbus traditionalists as the commission's highlight for Columbus Week -- a "Native American All-Nations Summit," cultural exposition and "pow-wow" from Oct. 11 through Oct. 17 in Hagerstown and at Fort Frederick State Park. This could prove a historic gathering of 850 tribes from the Indian nations in North America to discuss issues affecting American Indians. It will offer non-Indians a glimpse into this rich culture that was here long before Columbus's voyage.
An unorthodox Columbus commemoration? Absolutely. But using the 500th anniversary of the European discovery of this continent to learn about our rich cultural diversity and natural resources offers marvelous opportunities that no other state can match. Were he still around, we're sure, Columbus would eagerly attend.