Odd man out

October 26, 2007

At first, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett loved the idea of a collective marketing campaign to promote the scores of sites along a four-state corridor from Gettysburg, Pa., to Charlottesville, Va., that bear witness to some of American history's most momentous events.

But when the $15 million proposal got wrapped into a larger measure creating such heritage areas around the nation - and Mr. Bartlett learned that "Virginia-based" environmentalists and wealthy landowners were a driving force behind the one for this region - the Western Maryland Republican cried foul. He railed to his House colleagues Wednesday about a "big-government, big-spending philosophy" that threatened local property rights.

Luckily, they were wise enough to ignore him, voting overwhelmingly to approve the measure and send it on to the Senate, where approval is also expected.

The proposed "Journey Through Hallowed Ground" is, in fact, the marketing and economic development program Mr. Bartlett originally assumed it to be, and it could play an important role in boosting tourism to sites in the region that have much to tell about the shaping of this nation from Colonial times through the Civil War to the present day.

What's more, there is no threat to individual property rights beyond the goal to protect and preserve the landscape around battlefields and other landmarks. If anything, cohesive packaging of the heritage corridor will likely boost adjacent property values.

As for big spending, that hardly applies to a federal grant of $1 million a year over 15 years that must be matched by state and local public and private money. The big-government label doesn't apply, either, to a program that will be run by a private, nonprofit organization made up of preservationists, businesses and local officials.

This group is based in Virginia, but it will have no regulatory authority here or there; the whole idea of a multistate approach is to work together. The Board of Commissioners in Frederick County, where most of the Maryland portion would be located, endorsed the heritage area proposal.

Mr. Bartlett should have trusted his initial instincts instead of playing to the inside-the-beltway anti-government crowd.

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