After nearly two years of developing a plan, an organization with roots in Howard and Baltimore counties has become responsible for managing a portion of the Patapsco Valley.
Patapsco Heritage Greenway, a nonprofit with members from southwestern Baltimore County and Howard County, announced Jan. 16 it had received notice from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority that the Patapsco Valley is the 13th certified Heritage Area in the state.
As a result, the group becomes steward of 24.6 square miles of land outlined in its plan. Territory involved includes Patapsco Valley State Park and bordering communities such as Catonsville, Arbutus and Relay.
The certification opens the door for qualified local jurisdictions, nonprofits, businesses and individuals to become eligible for grants from the state, once both Baltimore and Howard counties amend their master plans to incorporate the Heritage Greenway plan, said Richard Hughes, administrator for the Maryland Heritage Areas Program of the Maryland Historical Trust.
"The designation opens up a pool of money," said Victoria Goodman, a member of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway who lives in Catonsville. "We will use the money to promote the area."
Although the Patapsco Valley became a designated heritage area in 1998, it was not eligible for funding until now.
"It makes it easier to carry out a series of projects — it could be marketing the heritage area, opening a museum, non-capital projects or putting up historic markers that tell the story of the area," Hughes said.
However, nonprofit group Preservation Maryland issued a press release on Friday, Jan. 23 expressing concern about a $300,000 retroactive cut to existing funding for the state's 13 heritage areas.
"I'm a little disappointed, but these things tend to work themselves out," said John Slater, president of Patapsco Heritage Greenway.
The group had created a management plan then, but stopped seeking certification when faced by opposition from the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Slater said.
"We just said, 'Let's put our hands in our pockets and show everyone we're a good organization.'" Slater said.
Gabriele Hourticolon, 62, who moved to Relay in 1983 and is a member of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, was part of the effort then.
"The lesson to be learned is that sometimes it's not bad to have a backlash," Hourticolon said. "As ideas develop they come back again and this is a very strong idea."
The group faced opposition from the Sierra Club on its second try, but received support from county government and park officials.
"This is a long-awaited victory for our group and all those who worked tirelessly to help make it happen," Slater said in a Jan. 16 press release from the organization.
The decision follows a public hearing held Dec. 8 at the Catonsville Clubhouse on St. Timothy's Lane, during which the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority heard input from residents on the plan to certify the Patapsco Heritage Area.
Some concerns were raised by members of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club about the Patapsco River Valley State Park's inclusion in the plan, which the club believed could pave the way for construction projects within park boundaries at the will of Patapsco Heritage Greenway.
"It was a misplaced concern," Hughes said.
Nothing can be done within the 16,000-acre park without the approval of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Hughes said.
Still, some people who want to preserve the appeal of older communities such as Catonsville, Oella, Relay and Arbutus, remain skeptical of what will happen now that the area is eligible for grants through the program.
"Often times the idea is to preserve but when it comes down to it, they want to develop," said Berchie Manley, a longtime Catonsville resident who served as 1st District Councilwoman from 1990 to 1994.
Slater, a Columbia resident, said once the organization is able to receive funding, it plans to hire an executive director, "to comply with all the state requirements and be able to begin preaching the value of the valley."
The group plans to promote the history of the area, while also advocating for the environment, through education programs, Slater said.
"Our goal in the past has been education, and our goal in the future will be education, and talking about the resources and the importance of the story of the valley, " Slater said.
Hourticolon imagines the certification could make communities within the management plan more attractive places to live.
"It would be wonderful to develop these programs because it would create a local pride," Hourticolon said.
She would like to develop an online museum, where people can share their knowledge and research of the valley, she said.
Rob Dyke, manager of the Patapsco Valley State Park, who supports the group's plan, said the park will be able to work on projects it wasn't able to before.
"It frees up another pool of money for our Friends of [Patapsco Valley State Park] groups," Dyke said, adding that nonprofits are now eligible for matching grants from the state which will enable them to do more.
The Maryland Heritage Areas Program was established in 1996 by General Assembly legislation to preserve the heritage and history of areas in the state and increase economic activity in such areas from tourism. Each of the areas has a distinct character that makes it attractive to visitors, according to the state Department of Planning's website.
For example, the Patapsco Valley is home to a number of historic sites, including the Thomas Viaduct and Thistle Mill.
In a 2013 report to the governor and the General Assembly, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority says the program is able to focus community attention on under-appreciated aspects of history, culture and natural resources at the local level.
Goodman, who joined Patapsco Heritage Greenway a year ago, said she championed the cause to achieve certification because she wants to preserve and promote the history of the Patapsco Valley, where she spent her childhood.
"I grew up in the mill town of Daniels and my parents worked in the mill," Goodman said of the town built around an industrial mill in the 19th century. In the 1960s, a village surrounding the mill was destroyed and now sits vacant.
"It's certainly part of my history and now people will know about it," Goodman said.
First District Councilman Tom Quirk, who spoke in support of the plan at the Dec. 8 public hearing and voted for the county to approve the plan, said the certification brings more resources to the Patapsco Valley and surrounding communities.
Quirk said the certification means the community will have the resources to market and promote their history in addition to that of the park.
"We have to tell the story better," he said.
"I look at this as an opportunity to really remind people about the park that is in our backyard," Quirk said. "It's a huge asset and not appreciated the way it should be."