WASHINGTON – When he’s not performing his duties as mayor of Colmar Manor, Michael Garrett sometimes drives high-ranking government officials to the White House in his part-time job as a limo driver.
Garrett will get to see the other side of a White House event for the first time Monday, when he and officials from Prince George’s County, Bladensburg and Cottage City are recognized for their plan to improve the quality of life in the so-called Port Towns.
The White House event will honor them as one of the 15 winners of the 1999 Sustainable Community Awards, given to local leaders for “policies and programs that lead to job growth, environmental stewardship and social equity,” according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a sponsor of the award.
“This is a wonderful example of how three small Maryland towns partnered with a county to implement a community revitalization plan,” said J. Thomas Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “It’s an achievement that stems from a partnership of a new regional identity they call the Port Towns and it has worked beautifully.”
In 1995, the three neighboring towns came together to form the “Port Towns Revitalization Initiative,” a partnership aimed at sparking economic and social development in the area straddling Route 1 near the Washington, D.C., border.
Since then, the group has created a “Three Towns Council” and worked together to improve the appearance of the towns, planting flowers in medians and working on “streetscapes.” In March, the Port Towns will sponsor their second Kite Day at a local ballpark, giving away 1,000 kites that were donated by area merchants.
The idea for a partnership began in 1990, when the Army Corps of Engineers was dredging the old Bladensburg port on the Anacostia River. Garrett worried that Colmar Manor children were being put in danger by the Army Corps’ heavy equipment, and it was then that the towns’ leaders decided they needed to work together.
“We always operated independently, and we’re still doing that, but we’re working with a group consensus now,” said Garrett, mayor of Colmar Manor for the past decade. “We now have a common goal among the three of us.”
One of the program’s major goals is to attract business and draw tourists from the nation’s capital next door, said Bill Hall, chairman of the Cottage City Commission. “It’s going to really make it an attractive corridor coming in from D.C.,” said Hall, who has lived in Cottage City for 39 years.
Garrett said the Port Towns’ attractions include a historical dueling ground next to the local cemetery — “whoever lost didn’t have to go far,” he said — and the route of the British invasion of Washington during the War of 1812.
“What I see eventually is to improve the area so this becomes a tourist mecca,” Garrett said.