A down-to-earth site for Clinton visit EARTH DAY 1995

April 21, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

White House officials needed the perfect backdrop for President Clinton's Earth Day speech to the nation. They found it in Havre de Grace.

The Harford County city of 10,400 has all the right props: a stunning view of the mouth of the Susquehanna River from a charming, 200-year-old hamlet whose past and future are inexorably tied to the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay.

"This is one of the great landscapes of America," said Glenn Eugster, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official in Annapolis. It was Mr. Eugster's suggestion that Havre de Grace -- "harbor of grace" in English -- be the place where Mr. Clinton today will mark the 25th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

"There is that sense of place that some communities have lost," Mr. Eugster said.

Mr. Clinton, who will arrive about 11 a.m. by helicopter from Washington, will be accompanied by Vice President Al Gore, a well-known advocate for environmental protection. They will be met by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, Havre de Grace Mayor Gunther Hirsch and others.

Security for the visit, already tight, has been stepped up in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing Wednesday, a White House official said yesterday.

EPA officials in Washington began looking for possible Earth Day sites for the president in February. The president's Council on Environmental Quality, which advises the White House on environmental policy, helped by getting in touch with Cliff Dowling, Harford's tourism director.

"We definitely wanted to go someplace on the Chesapeake Bay," said Mary Ellen Glynn, a White House spokeswoman.

Havre de Grace already had a number of Earth Day activities scheduled for the weekend, including a skipjack race, a bull roast and exhibits. Many events have been rearranged to accommodate the president's visit.

The bay cleanup, which has involved a partnership of Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Pennsylvania for more than years, is a perfect example of communities recognizing that the economy and the environment are interdependent, an administration official said.

Mr. Eugster, associate director for ecosystem management at the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office, has been working with Havre de Grace officials to help find ways to plan development without spoiling the waterfront.

Those plans include a riverfront "greenway" trail that is being constructed from the city to Conowingo Dam, about eight miles northwest along the Susquehanna River. Helping with that project are members of the National Civilian Community Corps, part of Mr. Clinton's national service initiative.

Havre de Grace also has built a a wood and concrete promenade at the waterfront that has proved popular with tourists.

Mr. Clinton will speak near the 166-year-old Concord Point Lighthouse at the north end of the promenade. Up to 5,000 residents are expected to attend.

The city is also building a $1 million maritime museum that will chronicle its water-related history, the era when millions of shad and herring spawned in the northern bay, when 100,000 canvasback ducks would land on the Susquehanna in a single day, when commerce was fueled by the old Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal.

Today's event promises to be a typical whirlwind visit by the president.

Images of the chief executive will be televised nationwide and probably will include the lighthouse, built in 1829, in the background, and maybe the billowing sails of a Chesapeake Bay skipjack in the distance.

Such "photo opportunities," as they have become known, have been occurring as long as there have been cameras to record them, said Charles O. Jones, a presidential scholar and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"I definitely think they serve a purpose," Mr. Jones said. They help elevate the office of the president and can instill local pride, he said, adding, "The president is more than the person."

Mayor Hirsch said flags will be flying from porches and storefronts and that the streets will be gussied up for the occasion. "For Havre de Grace, it is a historic moment," he said.

ABOUT CLINTON'S VISIT

* WHAT: President Clinton and Vice President Gore celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day today in Havre de Grace, about 11 a.m.

* WHERE: Millard E. Tydings Memorial Park.

* TO ENTER: Go to the Concord Point Lighthouse on Concord Street. If you are there by 9 a.m., you are sure to get in. Festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. There is no seating.

* PARKING: Park north of Alliance Street. All streets south of Alliance Street to the Chesapeake Bay will be closed.

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