The National Park Service presence in the Bay watershed expanded this summer as it formally launched the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, but some lawmakers hope the park service will soon have an even greater role.
The 560-mile Star Spangled Banner trail is a land and water route that links sites in Maryland and Virginia that gained fame during America's "Second War of Independence." Officials marked the trail's opening on July 30 at one of those sites, Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood, an important shipbuilding center during the war.
Although the war provided the nation with its national anthem — a 32-by-40 foot replica of the Star Spangled Banner that flew over nearby Fort McHenry after the pivotal battle was at the ceremony — many Americans today know little about the conflict.
The trail aims to help change that.
"There were a lot of bloody days, and things often did not look good," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, who led efforts to have the trail created. "People want to know that story."
The park service will erect about 30 three-sided kiosks at visitor centers and key sites during the coming year to provide information about the trail, places to visit nearby and local information about the three-year struggle between Great Britain and the United States.
It will also erect more than 75 interpretive signs along the trail to provide additional details about important sites and events. A brochure, smartphone app and website also provide information about the trail route and historic sites, allowing people to design their own trips.
Maryland has also established a 106-mile byway designated by the Maryland State Highway Administration. "You experience a byway," said Doug Simmons, of the Maryland State Highway Administration. "You learn a little bit more, and get a reason for coming back."
Indeed, officials hope the trail will spark tourism, as it links more than 20 national historic landmarks and more than 100 historic districts and properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as two national natural landmarks.
"It is connecting people to the heritage of our nation in a way that they can learn, have fun and strengthen the economy," Cardin said.
He and some other lawmakers hope to see another park soon. "We're now going to work on the Harriet Tubman National Park," Cardin said at the ceremony. "We're going to get that done also."
He and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, Rep. Andy Harris, R-MD, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in July called for creation of a Harriet Tubman National Monument to honor the former slave who led others to freedom along her Underground Railroad, which ran through the Eastern Shore.
National monuments can be designated by either Congress, or the president. Last November, President Barack Obama used that authority to establish another monument along the Bay, Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton Roads, VA.
To learn more about the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, visit www.starspangledtrail.net.