Accidental tourist I-83 welcome center: Parkton facility would fill void at north-central gateway to Maryland.

November 17, 1996

DRIVING SOUTH from York, Pa., on Interstate 83, you pass billboards, potholes, more billboards, then more potholes. But when you cross into Maryland, you wind through lush, rolling valleys on smoother highways. Maryland sells itself. A visitors center in this section of I-83, where travelers could find bearings, brochures and clean bathrooms, seems an ideal way to lure tourists to attractions in northern and central Maryland.

About a million people stop at the 11 welcome centers the state already operates. They range from the busy Chesapeake and Maryland Houses on I-95, to the educational exhibit at the mountain gouge at Sideling Hill. I-83 at Parkton, with roughly 23,000 cars (many of them daily commuters), does not approach the traffic volume of those border points. But it is a prime gateway to and from Central Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The estimated $4 million needed to build the facility would come from the state and federal governments and Baltimore County, which has long been searching for a focused tourism campaign.

Travel I-95, especially south of the Free State, and you can see the efforts of Maryland's competitors. A crush of outdoor ads and kiosks beckon motorists to take the next exit and spend their money. Maryland must do more to sell itself to travelers. It lags far behind neighboring states in tourism advertising.

I-83 near Parkton is a prime spot to establish a center. It does not have to be the mother of all welcome centers, but neither should it be a trailer with a portable lavatory out back. The aim should be to aggressively sell Maryland as travelers emerge from the pockmarked Pennsylvania portion of the interstate into the beauty of the northern Maryland countryside.

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