Piscataway leaders join hands to celebrate the new National Heritage Area designation. Photo: Sophia Handel, The Hatcher Group

Southern MD Gets Funding Boost as New National Heritage Area

They’re celebrating in Southern Maryland the region’s new designation as a National Heritage Area. For one thing, that means money—about $1 million a year in federal funds over the next 10 years and more from local and private sources—to promote tourism, education and promotional programs and environmental protection efforts.

The region can match the federal money in time spent on projects as well as dollars, explained Lucille Walker, executive director of the Southern Maryland Heritage Area. And that gives the three counties (St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert) an advantage because they’re already part of a state-designated heritage area and bring in $100,00 a year in state money.

What are the region’s big goals for their new funding? First, they have to talk with community groups and develop a master plan. Walker says she already has some ideas.

“We need to get water access,” she said. “Southern Maryland has more shoreline than all the rest of Maryland, 1,000 miles of shoreline, but very little public access. Maybe we could set up something like boat trips to Mallows Bay.”

That’s the 18 square mile stretch of Potomac River shoreline in Charles County where the skeletons of more than 100 sunken steamships and other vessels built for America’s role in World War I rest. It’s already a popular kayaking destination.

Or maybe something as prosaic as roadside signs telling motorists they’re entering a designated heritage area in “English and Algonquin to honor the Piscataway people,” Walker added.

She said the heritage area would bring together the histories of the Indigenous people along with the first English settlers and those who came after.

It would create more recognition for the village of Moyaone, an ancient tribal site that is now part of Piscataway National Park, where they held the celebration.

“This is the historical seat of government occupied by the Piscataway for 15,000 years,” said Chief Mark Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation. “When we touch the soil here, we are touching the generations of those before us. Who we were and who we are today as Piscataway is intermingled with this land.”

He called the recognition “a proud moment in the history of the state of Maryland.”

“As we embrace Maryland’s heritage, we recognize that the Indian people of this land are still here today,” he said.

The Heritage Area, which Congress approved on a bipartisan basis, stretches across St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert counties, and takes in part of southern Prince George’s, where federal agents chased Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth before catching up with him in Virginia. It includes St. Mary’s City, site of the first European settlement in Maryland and Calvert Cliffs, where fossil hunters find the remains of animals and sea creatures from the Miocene period, as well as the National Marine Sanctuary at Mallows Bay and the site of the ancient Piscataway village just across the Potomac from George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. 

“This designation raises the profile of the region and brings great economic, environmental, and cultural benefits,” Gov. Wes Moore, the keynote speaker, said at the celebration. “National Heritage Areas connect communities, promote awareness, and foster interest in our rich natural resources and diverse heritage.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland Democrat who sponsored the legislation creating the heritage area, said the region has “long maintained a deep connection” to its history, from the Piscataway “and their vibrant society to early colonists who sought religious freedom to brave abolitionists who helped enslaved people escape to freedom.”

The designation will help support preserving the region’s history, conserving its ecosystem, and supporting its economy, he said.

-Joel McCord