Promoting our heritage Tourism draw: Bill aims to stimulate interest in state's historic, scenic and cultural sites.

March 17, 1996

QUICK. WHAT IS the second biggest tourism draw for Maryland? Here's a hint: No. 1 is water recreation and the Chesapeake Bay. No. 2 is not the Orioles or Cal Ripken.

No, the second-most popular activity that lures tourists here is visiting historic sites, museums and other landmarks. In a state survey, four times as many people said they come to Maryland for its "heritage" attractions as are drawn here by professional sports.

Such draws are quiet engines of economic growth. Yet even in a good year, state government spends very little to boost the visibility and attractiveness of these locales.

A bill sponsored by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor would change that by creating "heritage areas" eligible for state aid and tax breaks. The idea is to improve tourism offerings and develop historical, cultural and scenic packages so families spend multiple days in Maryland.

Some potential locales: Canal Place along the C&O Canal; the lower Susquehanna River valley (Port Deposit, Havre de Grace, Perryville); Washington and Frederick counties with a Civil War heritage; the lower Eastern Shore; inner Baltimore (Fort McHenry, Museum of Industry, Fells Point, City Life Museums) with a 19th century theme; the upper Patapsco River (Ellicott City and Elkridge) and the lower Potomac River south to the Chesapeake.

The state would put up $1 million a year. Regions would be reimbursed for submitting detailed proposals and management plans. Each year, two winning projects could receive state grants and loans as well as a variety of tax incentives. If the tourism sites have money-raising potential, the groups could float revenue bonds to promote and build up heritage sites.

This good idea encourages regionalism and could lead to a boom in heritage-linked tourism. We urge the state Senate to get behind this bill (the House has already approved it). Maryland is filled with unexploited heritage gems. This is a chance to mine a valuable resource.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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