House approves heritage area

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives voted yesterday to designate a corridor that runs from Gettysburg to Monticello as a National Heritage Area, over the objections of the Maryland congressman whose district lies at its heart.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area would include Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, taking in such historic sites as Antietam National Battlefield, the Mother Seton Shrine and Camp David.

Federal recognition would give a Virginia-based private, nonprofit organization, which includes preservationists, businesses and local officials, up to $15 million in federal matching funds over 15 years to safeguard the historic sites along the 175-mile U.S. 15 corridor.

The legislation would give the partnership three years to develop an inventory of the region's attractions and recommend ways to protect, preserve and promote them.

"That land on which so much blood was spilled will be memorialized," said Frederick County Commissioner Mike Cady, who serves on several committees of the partnership. "Anybody that knows anything about our history recognizes that that was a very determinate piece of ground as to how our country was going to be formed."

The measure drew opposition from conservatives led by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican whose Frederick County farm lies near the Monocacy National Battlefield.

Bartlett wrote to House Republicans before the vote that the proposal reflects "a big-government, big-spending philosophy that tramples over taxpayers' interests and private-property rights" and would submit Marylanders to the machinations of a private organization controlled by Virginians.

Bartlett expressed concern that the federal designation and the money behind it would help preservationists build momentum for restrictions on how property owners could use their land. He said his farm would not be affected because the portion closest to the battlefield lies in a flood plain.

Bartlett said he was an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal "before I read the fine print."

Supporters called the concerns of property owners unfounded.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican, said the measure would neither reduce the land-use authority of local, state or federal governments nor give any land-use authority to the nonprofit Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.

The House voted 291-122 to approve the measure, which would designate six new heritage areas nationwide and authorize up to $90 million to fund them.

Bartlett was the only member of the Maryland delegation to oppose the proposal. The others supported it, with the exception of Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn, who did not vote.

The measure now goes to the Senate, which is expected to approve it, supporters said.

Stretching from the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello, the home built by Thomas Jefferson outside Charlottesville, Va., the corridor includes eight presidential homes, 13 National Park Service properties and battlefields from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

It also lies in the path of development expanding westward from Washington.

In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the corridor in a list of the nation's 11 most endangered historic places.

The partnership came together more than a decade ago to safeguard that heritage. With $3 million raised privately, it has produced a travel guidebook, tourist maps, curriculum materials for teachers and a two-week summer camp for middle school students.

Cate Magennis Wyatt, a former Virginia secretary of commerce and trade who heads the partnership, said attendance at the region's historic sites, in decline for years, has begun to rebound but that more help is needed. She described federal recognition as primarily "honorific" but added that the money would help promote education and tourism.

She also spoke of creating a trust to purchase land from willing sellers at fair market value. That money would have to come from funds raised privately by the partnership because the legislation prohibits the use of the federal money to buy property.

Wyatt said the partnership has no interest in promoting restrictions on land use.

"Not only no interest, but no regulatory authority," she said. "I mean, even if we were interested in it, this bill specifically says there is no overriding authority. There is no effect on the local and state jurisdictions to decide land use."

Ann Corcoran was not convinced. She and other property-rights advocates see the federal recognition as the leading edge of a larger effort by preservationists "to ultimately restrict what people do with their properties."

Corcoran, who owns a farm that abuts Antietam National Battlefield in Western Maryland, said, "You wouldn't need it otherwise, would you? You can have all of these localities that want to promote tourism, which is just fine, they could all get together every month and plan tourist stuff, couldn't they?"

In a 2004 report, the Government Accountability Office acknowledged concerns that "provisions in some [National Heritage Area] management plans" could "encourage local governments to implement land use policies that are consistent with the heritage areas' plans."

But the agency also found that "national heritage areas do not appear to have affected property owners' rights."

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