If all goes according to plan, the Patapsco River Valley will soon become the 13th certified heritage area in Maryland.
"We're very excited about this plan," said John Slater, president of Patapsco Heritage Greenway. "If we take care of what we have here, it will be better for all of us."
Patapsco Heritage Greenway hosted a meeting at Relay Town Hall on Tuesday to present a plan by a consulting firm that outlines the historic and natural resources of the valley, and the organization's plan for preserving them.
More than 30 people attended the meeting, one of three set for the area as the group seeks community input before the plan is submitted to Baltimore County for approval.
"We see the communities as very much a part of this resource, " said Gary Maule, a board member of Patapsco Heritage Greenway who lives in Ellicott City.
A second meeting will be held Saturday in Elkridge at 9 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 6725 Montgomery Road.
The third meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, March 31, at the Catonsville Clubhouse, 10 St. Timothy's Lane.
As a certified heritage area, the Patapsco River Valley becomes eligible for state benefits such as matching grants, loans, tax credits and operating support.
It could become eligible for state funding of up to $100,000 every year, which could be used by the Patapsco Heritage Greenway to expand and hire a full-time director, Slater said.
Under the plan, the organization would become the management entity of the Patapsco Heritage Area.
"I see us as being a resource and a broker between different organizations," Slater said.
Becoming a certified heritage area is a two-step process. The organization completed the first step in 1997 by getting Patapsco Heritage Valley designated as a recognized heritage area.
Patapsco Heritage Greenway is a volunteer-based organization of approximately 300 members that "is dedicated to preserving, protecting, interpreting and restoring the environment, history and culture of the Valley between Daniels and Elkridge, Maryland," according to its website.
Slater said his goal is to make the organization a source of environmental and historical information for the Patapsco Heritage Valley.
"This is one of the first groups that brings both history and the environment under one umbrella," Slater said.
The organization also seeks to protect the environment and has organized a number of environmental efforts in the valley over the years, including stream cleanups, tree plantings and removing invasive plant species.
According to the group's plan, its efforts to improve the watershed through conservation programs and environmental education programs will continue.
The Patapsco Heritage Area is in Baltimore and Howard counties.. Its approximately 24.6 square miles along the Patapsco River gorge extend from below Elkridge upstream to Daniels and includes the historic communities of Avalon, Elkridge, Ellicott City, Daniels, Oella, Relay, Catonsville and Lawyer's Hill, as outlined in the management plan.
The plan has the support of 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, whose resolution was passed by the Baltimore County Council on Dec. 2, 2013, that asked the county's Department of Planning to, "work cooperatively and assist the Patapsco Heritage Greenway in the preparation of a management plan as the first step in the designation of a Certified Heritage Area."
Quirk said he supports what the organization hopes to accomplish.
"We're so lucky to have this amazing asset right in our backyard," he said. "Anything we can do to showcase the Patapsco Valley State Park the better."
The Maryland Heritage Areas Program is administered by the Maryland Historical Trust, an agency of the Maryland Department of Planning. The program promotes tourism development, economic growth, preservation and conservation of heritage-rich communities.
The Patapsco Valley played a major role in America's industrial revolution as the home of a number of mills and its connection to Baltimore & Ohio, the nation's first railroad.