Bay to get U.S. stamp of approval

Postage debut part of series depicting national wonders


The Chesapeake Bay is about to get lifted, pressed and delivered.

The U.S. Postal Service is unveiling its first Chesapeake Bay stamp today at the 2006 World Philatelic Exhibition in Washington, a once-a-decade display of stamp collections that will be held at the district's convention center.

The stamp, which features a blue heron flying against the backdrop of a bay sunset, will be part of the postal service's "Wonders of America" series. It is the only landmark in Maryland to make the list of 40 features.

"There's a lot excitement over that stamp," said Elaine Smith, communications coordinator for the Postal Service's Baltimore district. "They're really trying to do so much with the Chesapeake Bay, and this is just paying homage to all of their efforts."

Over the decades, groups trying to raise awareness of the bay's fragility in the face of mounting pollution have managed to land the estuary on license plates, bumper stickers and, more recently, on bottled water. But until now, the bay has never had its own stamp.

That may be in part because competition is stiff. The Postal Service receives thousands of suggestions each year for worthy stamp subjects. Only about 25 topics annually will appear on letters.

Smith said she's not sure who suggested the series of superlatives, but that the bay was a natural fit because it was the nation's largest estuary. Other wonders in the series include the country's tallest cactus, which is in Tucson, Ariz., and its largest glacier, which is in Copper Valley, Alaska.

Each stamp in the series, designed by Arizona artist Richard Sheaff, includes statistics on the back. The images were painted by North Carolina artist Lonnie Busch, who chose pinks and lavenders for the bay stamp.

The bay stamp will have another unveiling Wednesday in Annapolis, when dignitaries will pull a large fiberglass replica of the stamp from the waters off City Dock.

Chris Conner, communications director for the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program, is planning to be there.

"If you think about it, the series is on the wonders of America. And not having the Chesapeake Bay included is like not having peanut butter with your jelly," Conner said. "There's no other body of water that defines a region the way it does."

The Postal Service contacted Conner about the stamp a year ago to seek advice on what image would capture the bay. Conner said coming up with something was challenging, because the bay is so different depending on where it flows in the region. Some areas are known for crabs, others for shad or mallards.

Conner said he thought the heron was a good choice because the bird can be found in every Maryland county. And he liked the idea of showing pilings in the background because they're seen all over the bay.

David Bancroft, president of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, said he'd never thought about lobbying for a bay stamp before. But because his organization builds partnerships, the Postal Service's involvement has got him thinking about encouraging other federal agencies - such as the departments of Agriculture, Labor and the Treasury - to help restore the bay.

Bancroft is hoping that this series won't be the bay's last chance to make its 39-cent mark on the country. He wants the postal service to run a series on just the wonders of the bay.

"Having the blue heron is a wonderful thing, but it would be great to have some that focuses on crabs, oysters, shad, sea grasses," Bancroft said. "The more publicity that we can get, I think, the better."

Conner said he would like to see the Postal Service market the bay stamp on its own, not just as part of the series, so people can go out and buy rolls them and raise awareness of the estuary in all the far-flung places where they send mail. The stamps will be available this summer.

"The bay is at the forefront of a lot of people's minds, but you don't get to express it very often," he said. "Here, with 39 cents, you get to express your appreciation for it every day."

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