WASHINGTON – While Maryland congressmen pushed to add the “Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail,” to the nation’s trail system Tuesday, the National Park Service urged a House panel to limit the scope and funds for the proposed study.
Reps. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, and Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, co-sponsors of the bill, were absent from a subcommittee hearing Tuesday morning, but submitted testimony in writing supporting their measure.
The bill would generate a study of the trail tracing the major events and sites of the War of 1812 – with an eye to adding the route to the National Park Service’s list of 12 National Historical Trails.
“This bill, if enacted, would teach all of us so much more about the rich history surrounding this period,” Cardin said in his statement.
The trail would start where British forces landed at Benedict in Charles County, proceed through Bladensburg where American forces were defeated, and would include the burning of Washington and the Battle at North Point in Baltimore County, according to Gilchrest. It would wind through six Maryland counties, Baltimore and Washington.
The trail also would commemorate the ultimate victory of American troops at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry on Sept. 14, 1814 – the inspiration for local lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key’s composition “The Star-Spangled Banner”, now our national anthem.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, introduced an identical bill in the upper chamber in February and will be the first witness at the bill’s Senate hearing on Thursday.
“The War of 1812 marks a turning point in the development of the United States,” Sarbanes said when he introduced the bill. The trail, he said, “will serve as a reminder of the importance of the concept of liberty.”
The National Park Service told the subcommittee that changes must be made to the bill before any study can be done.
“The study should not be done without being coordinated and integrated with the other efforts currently underway,” said Denis P. Galvin, deputy director of the National Park Service in his testimony before the House subcommittee on Natural Parks and Public Lands.
Galvin argued that ongoing studies of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Chesapeake Bay would overlap with the study proposed in the bill.
The National Park Service, through the American Battlefield Protection Program, awarded Maryland $75,000 in federal funds to begin planning efforts to preserve and promote sites relating to the War of 1812.
That award, Galvin said, is already paying for studies of many of the proposed trail’s sites, and those should be coordinated with the proposed new study and its funds limited.
Conservationists, however, backed the idea of a Star-Spangled Banner Trail.
“I think what it is going to do is put Maryland on the map the way the Civil War put Virginia on the map,” said Elise Butler, program director of Preservation Maryland, a non-profit historical preservation association.
“We have these great historic sites like Fort McHenry that people go to but don’t really know why they are important,” Butler said.
Many important sites and trails have been offered up for study as possible National Historic Trails, according to Thomas Ross, assistant director of the National Park Service’s Recreation and Conservation Programs.
“There have been quite a few actually proposed for study, but for various reasons, they don’t meet the criteria,” he said. “There’s a fairly good number that don’t make it.”
— 30 —