Southern Maryland, USA – On Wednesday, May 25, 2023, Destination Southern Maryland held a momentous celebration to commemorate the recent designation of Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s, and southern Prince George’s counties as a National Heritage Area. This prestigious recognition will raise the region’s profile and bring significant economic, environmental, and cultural benefits. Maryland Governor Wes Moore delivered the keynote speech at the event, attracting hundreds of residents across the state.
The establishment of the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area highlights the state’s profound national and international significance and opens doors to federal funding opportunities for the region. Governor Moore expressed his enthusiasm for the designation, stating, “National Heritage Areas connect communities, promote awareness, and foster interest in our rich natural resources and diverse heritage. Today is a celebration of our state’s heritage where it all began, in southern Maryland.”
Joining Governor Moore at the event were esteemed speakers, including Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Aruna Miller, Maryland Lieutenant Governor, Chief Mark Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation, Chairman Francis Gray of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, and Lucille Walker, Executive Director of the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area.
Assistant Secretary Estenoz emphasized the importance of National Heritage Areas, stating, “The Southern Maryland National Heritage Area, like all the 62 national heritage areas in the country, is a vibrant, lived-in landscape that celebrates the area’s unique history, culture, and nature. The Department of the Interior and National Park Service look forward to a robust collaboration with our partners to conserve and promote exceptional opportunities for recreation, tourism, and conservation in southern Maryland.”
The Southern Maryland National Heritage Area Act, included in the Heritage Areas Act, was passed by Congress on December 22, 2022, and signed into law by President Joe Biden on January 5, 2023. Sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and Representative Steny Hoyer, the bipartisan legislation authorizes $10 million in federal funding over the next 10 years.
Senator Cardin expressed his pride in the achievement, stating, “Federal recognition of this extraordinary region is a great win for Maryland. I am proud to have partnered with my colleagues Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen, as well as a coalition of local partners led by Destination Southern Maryland, to make this new national heritage area a reality.”
The designation of the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area is expected to have a significant impact on tourism and overall economic growth in the region. National Heritage Areas typically generate $5.50 in economic activity for every $1.00 of federal investment, creating jobs, generating revenue for local governments, and revitalizing communities through heritage tourism.
Senator Van Hollen highlighted the importance of the designation, saying, “With this official designation as a National Heritage Area and the additional federal resources we plan to access, we can better tell the full story of southern Maryland—its culture, unique places, and role in American history—to local residents and visitors alike. I’m excited about all of the economic benefits it will bring to southern Maryland and its small businesses in the coming years.”
In addition to promoting tourism and economic growth, National Heritage Areas also play a vital role in connecting communities to their natural, historic, and cultural sites through educational activities. By fostering awareness and stewardship of heritage resources, these areas contribute to the preservation and promotion of invaluable historical and cultural assets.
Congressman Hoyer, who played a significant role in the passage of the legislation, emphasized the importance of preserving the region’s history, conserving its ecosystem, and supporting its economy. He said, “Our southern Maryland communities have long maintained a deep connection to this heritage and to the surrounding environment. We have a duty to preserve this region’s history, conserve its ecosystem, and support its economy, and this legislation devotes federal resources to that effort.”
The Southern Maryland National Heritage Area designation highlights the region’s historical significance and showcases its rich cultural tapestry. Southern Maryland is renowned as the birthplace of religious freedom, where the concept of the separation of church and state first took root. It is also home to several remarkable “firsts” in American history, such as the first time a person of African descent served in a legislature (Mathias de Sousa, 1641) and the first recorded instance of a woman petitioning for the right to vote (Margaret Brent, 1648).
Moreover, the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area adds to Maryland’s collection of designated heritage areas. Alongside the Baltimore National Heritage Area, the state now boasts two locally focused heritage areas. Additionally, Maryland is part of two multistate heritage areas: the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (encompassing parts of Maryland and West Virginia) and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (spanning parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia).
The celebration event featured various cultural and artistic performances, including stirring drum performances by the Piscataway Indian Nation, captivating rhythms by the Spring Ridge Rhythm Club, and melodious tunes from colonial singers David and Ginger Hildebrand. Adding to the festive atmosphere, the Maryland Dove, a meticulously recreated 17th-century historic ship, made a special appearance after sailing in from St. Mary’s County.
Southern Maryland has a profound connection to its indigenous heritage, symbolizing the resilience and longevity of the Piscataway people. Chief Mark Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation expressed their deep-rooted ties to the land, stating, “When we touch the soil here, we are touching the generation of those before us. Who we were and who we are today as Piscataway is intermingled with this land.”
Chairman Francis Gray of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe also expressed his excitement, stating, “The designation of the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area is a positive step and will pull into motion an extremely important and long overdue effort to record, document, protect, and raise awareness about our history from a cultural perspective that will convey the proud heritage of our Piscataway people.”
As part of a National Heritage Area, Southern Maryland’s waters and landscapes will benefit from additional restoration projects, ensuring the preservation of precious ecosystems and supporting the communities that depend on them.
Lucille Walker, Executive Director of the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area, highlighted the collaborative nature of the designation, emphasizing the power of partnerships in shining a national light on the region’s stories and history. She expressed her gratitude to the federal, state, and local legislators who worked together to enhance funding and preserve the area’s deep-rooted and diverse history.
“The fact that we received the designation in just two years is a testament to the power of partnerships,” Walker said. “By preserving and sharing our deep-rooted and diverse history, Maryland can celebrate its heritage while creating a better future for all.”
The Southern Maryland National Heritage Area designation marks a significant milestone for the region, highlighting its cultural and historical significance while providing economic opportunities for growth. With the federal recognition and support, Southern Maryland is poised to flourish as a premier destination for heritage tourism, attracting visitors from around the nation and the world to explore its remarkable past and vibrant present.