On the trail of North Point history

The Baltimore Sun

As the National Park Service begins a process for developing a War of 1812 historical trail, agency officials said this week that they intend to include long-neglected sites associated with the Battle of North Point.

On Monday, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes will be among the dignitaries attending an event at Fort McHenry celebrating passage of their measure to create a Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. It was signed into law by President Bush last month.

The trail, which will trace key events in the War of 1812 in Maryland, Washington and Virginia, is expected to be completed in time for the war's bicentennial. In the next two years, the park service will settle on a process for designating the sites that will make up the trail, said Gay Vietzke, the superintendent of Fort McHenry National Monument.

Advocates of the North Point sites in Baltimore County have expressed concern that the monuments, markers and the few preserved segments of battlefield have not been well-maintained.

Although a new law establishing the trail doesn't specify all of the individual markers and monuments to be included, Vietzke said the trail will include locations in North Point, where British soldiers were thwarted in September 1814, while American forces withstood a 25-hour bombardment at Fort McHenry.

A story in Sunday's Sun incorrectly reported that a feasibility study did not recommend the inclusion of the North Point sites in the trail.

Park service officials will oversee the creation of an advisory council. Individual sites to be included in the trail will be determined through meetings, workshops and public comment, Vietzke said.

"We will begin the process of laying out a comprehensive management plan that will lay out all the specifics of how this trail will function, how it will be laid out on the ground and how it will be presented to the public," Vietzke said.

Officials hope that the trail designation will help them secure funds to enhance the appearance and accessibility of the sites and others.

Legislation to study a potential trail was first introduced in 1999 by Cardin, a Democrat, then a member of the House of Representatives, and former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the father of Representative Sarbanes, also a Democrat. Since 2003, Cardin has sponsored legislation to create the trail, said Susan Sullam, an aide to the senator.

Monday marks "the ceremonial celebration of the passage of a bill which has been a long time coming," Sullam said.

About two dozen other national trails, which follow routes of historical or aesthetic significance, exist.

Parks service officials will work with members of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission to coordinate events, said Bill Pencek, the executive director of the commission.

"The governor wants to use the bicentennial to set the platform for the next century of stewardship, education and cultural tourism," Pencek said.

The war is already marked through a state scenic byway, and sites associated with the war will soon be included in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways program, said Pencek, adding that it is hoped that the route will also become a national scenic byway.

The creation of the national historic trail will raise awareness of the war and the important role that Maryland played in the conflict, as well as streamline the experience for tourists, said the park service's Vietzke.

"It provides a coordinated way of sharing stories," she said. "The trail is a way to connect the dots."


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