Last hurdle for Journey thru Hallowed Ground

Last hurdle for Journey thru Hallowed Ground

“Generation after generation of Americans made decisions to create this country here,” said Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. Native Americans, colonial Americans, and revolutionary Americans all lived and worked and fought here, Wyatt said.

Wyatt is more than a history buff. She’s a trained economist, and served as Virginia Secretary of Commerce under Gov. Douglas Wilder. Good intentions can fade, she said. The profit motive endures.

She researched heritage tourism – the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry. Tourism is the second- or third-largest industry in much of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground territory.

The heritage tourist, she learned, is well educated and has money to spend. He (or she) doesn’t have time to plan a trip.

Let the Journey Through Hallowed Ground do that for him, and he will come. “We realized if we worked collaboratively, we can brand the region, develop the product, make it easy for people to visit the experience,” Wyatt said.

The measure to establish The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area cleared its final legislative hurdle Wednesday and now only awaits the presidents signature before becoming law.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) said language creating the heritage area, which will tie together all the rich historical and cultural sites along U.S. Route 15 from Thomas Jeffersons Monticello in Charlottesville north through Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, was included in the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 that was approved in the House by a vote of 291-117.

By designating this corridor as a national heritage area, the route will be celebrated, honored and shared with our children, grandchildren and generations to come, said Wolf, who introduced the legislation to establish the heritage area in April 2006.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground is modeled after the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, which Wolf helped create in the late 1990s.  Designation of this corridor as a national heritage area will create a partnership between federal, state and local governments, as well as businesses and civic organizations, to conserve and promote the historic and cultural resources along the route.  

The natural and cultural heritage within the proposed boundaries are unparalleled, Wolf said.  In addition to 13 national park units, the corridor is also home to 14 national historic landmarks, two World Heritage areas and more than one million acres of land already listed on the National Register. Americas history can literally be traced along this corridor, Wolf continued.  The Monroe Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the Camp David Accords were penned right here in our backyard.

The Wolf bill will direct $1 million of federal money per year, for up to 10 years, through a “management entity” (probably the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership) in the form of matching grants to towns, counties and organizations in the Journey area to promote tourism.

If Leesburg, or Hamilton, or Middleburg applies for $100,000 to create and promote a tourist event, the town will have to come up with $100,000 on its own to get at the federal money.

Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO of the Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association, is working now with leaders of other destination-marketing organizations to bring those tourists here, starting this fall.

Leesburg, she pointed out, is ideally situated to offer hotel and B&B rooms to those tourists, as they travel from here to Gettysburg and then south to Monticello. Then they can stay for dinner and shop in the historic district. And they can be enticed into a vineyard tour. George Washington, father of the country, was one of its first winemakers. “One of our goals is to be a hub for tourism, and the Journey fits all that really well,” Kilday said.

Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors has not endorsed the Wolf bill, or the Journey concept. The supervisors of Fauquier, Culpeper, Prince William, Fluvanna, Albemarle, Rappahannock, Greene, Spotsylvania, Frederick, Md., and Washington, Pa., counties, and the city councils of Leesburg, Hamilton, Hillsboro, Purcellville, Middleburg, Orange, Culpeper, Warrenton, Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry and Charles Town, W.Va., and Thurmont and Brunswick, Md., have all endorsed the plan.

The National Center For Public Policy in Washington, D.C., opposes the Wolf bill and has offered suggestions to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) on principles the center thought were important in the bill Bartlett submitted.

“The Journey Through Hallowed Ground,” said Peyton Knight at the center, “is nothing more than a land-use planning scheme.” Under the Wolf bill, Knight charges, the federal government and “wealthy special interest groups” will team up to “unduly influence land-use zoning and property rights in the region.”

Knight confirmed that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff sat on the center’s board.

The Bartlett bill has been referred to committee but not heard. It has two co-cosponsors.

The Trojan Horse of the Wolf bill, said Knight, is the $1 million a year. The Journey’s managers could use that money as a back channel to influence zoning. Elected leaders might succumb to the lure and zone preservation rather than encouraging it with economic benefits.

Knight said the management entity is directed in the Wolf bill to inventory “all the properties that the Park Service would like to see preserved and developed. Then, federal funds will be used to pay local governments to come up with the policies that bring that vision to fruition.”

Wolf’s answer to that is “the truth. Read Section 10 of the bill. There is nothing in this act that abridges the rights of any local government, including the right not to participate.”

Olwen Pongrace, vice president of the Journey partnership, points to a General Accounting Office study of the 37 existing National Heritage Areas (which can be created only by an Act of Congress). “The GAO could not find one example of rights of personal property owners being affected.”