If you have a tank of gas to spare, Cate Magennis Wyatt knows a great way to use it. She'll send you on the Journey through Hallowed Ground.
The Journey through Hallowed Ground is a north-south corridor in the western Chesapeake watershed toured mostly by way of U.S. Route 15.
"The Journey through Hallowed Ground is about as long as the Grand Canyon, and when it comes to history and heritage, it's just as deep," said Wyatt, a founder and current president of the Journey through Hallowed Ground partnership.
The Journey includes parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia - a 180-mile stretch from Gettysburg to Monticello lavished with historic sites and outdoor opportunities. Its assets include no less than 13 national parks, 73 national historic districts, 30 historic towns and villages, nine presidential homes, the largest collection of Civil War sites in the country and countless scenic stops along roads and rivers.
Recently named both a National Heritage Area and a National Scenic Byway, the Journey through Hallowed Ground has renewed public awareness of this intensely stirring landscape - and boasts access to 400 years of history on a single tank of gas.
For Wyatt, experiencing the ties between land and history is a critical part of the Journey. "History is here first and foremost because of the natural environment," Wyatt said.
Route 15 in its earliest form was a footpath traveled by American Indians to and from present-day South Carolina. Its course was shaped by river crossings. The first European trappers followed this path, as well as the first settlers and the armies that soon followed.
The Journey through Hallowed Ground partnership formed in 2006 as a private nonprofit organization. The group aimed to raise awareness of the region's special places at a time when portions of the landscape were experiencing the fastest rates of growth in the nation.
The group had big plans. Instead of protecting or promoting individual sites, they chose to raise the profile of the entire Route 15 corridor with a name, a theme - and a marketing plan.
"We could never do what needed to be done on an incremental basis," Wyatt said. "The task was Herculean. And it was urgent."
The Journey through Hallowed Ground developed through personal outreach to local governments, the general public, site managers, educators, tourism specialists and economic development professionals. State preservation offices and the National Register of Historic Places helped to document the full breadth of the region's resources.
"People were passionate about the history and resources in their own backyards and had some sophistication about the economic benefits, but there was no name recognition," Wyatt said.
Five years later, the Journey through Hallowed Ground has become "the place where America happened."
The Journey partnership promotes hundreds of heritage tourism sites, which are collectively the top employer in the National Heritage Area and generate billions of dollars for the region each year.
The Journey through Hallowed Ground web site offers resources for both guided and self-guided tours.
Visitors might want to explore the Catoctin Scenic Loop through Maryland mountains or travel the Orchards and Highlands Loop of Adams County, PA. The Potomac Heritage Loop crosses through parts of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia with stops at three wineries along the way.
Other routes focus on African-American heritage and U.S. presidents. Battlefields are especially popular as the Civil War marks its 150th anniversary.
The Journey through Hallowed Ground partnership also sponsors a vigorous hands-on education program, which has middle school students producing their own mini-
documentaries on the Civil War era. During the "Extreme Journeys" of summer camp, students hike, bike and paddle their way across the landscape while learning about the important decisions and events that took place there.
"When people come to realize the importance of their own back yards, it can be transformational," Wyatt said.
For information about the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, visit www.hallowedground.org/.