Public Meeting Scheduled for Religious Freedom Byway Corridor

LA PLATA, Md. (Feb. 15, 2008)—Local County governments will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, February 27, to discuss the Religious Freedom Tour Byway that will traverse southern Maryland.

The Religious Freedom Byway incorporates many of the nation’s oldest churches, the site of the first Roman Catholic Mass held in English-speaking America, and Maryland’s colonial capital, Historic St. Mary’s City.

The byway generally follows along the Maryland shore of the Potomac River from Port Tobacco to Point Lookout along State Routes 225, 301, 234 and 5. The byway has an upper loop from Port Tobacco along Rose Hill Road and MD 225, and then through the Nanjemoy area along MD 224, MD 425 and MD 6. In addition, several branches of the byway reach toward the Potomac River to Cobb Island, St. Clements, Piney Point, and St. George’s Island.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss draft management strategies to be included in the byway corridor management plan in response to ideas and suggestions made at the first community meetings held last July.

The plan is being prepared with funding from a Federal Highway Administration grant through the National Scenic Byways Program. The grant is being administered through a joint effort between Saint Mary’s and Charles Counties.

The plan is a written document in which the sponsor describes the goals, strategies and responsibilities for conserving and enhancing a byway’s most valuable qualities. It is a collaborative effort among all those who have an interest in the future of the area included in the byway corridor. It sets forth a long-term vision for what the byway may become over time and also a short-term action plan.

Representatives from Saint Mary’s and Charles Counties are interested in nominating the Religious Freedom Byway as one of America’s Byways in the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program. The byway management plan is a requirement for gaining the designation.

If ultimately obtained, the America’s Byways designation provides additional opportunities for heritage-based tourism development including funding opportunities for preservation and enhancement projects.

Maryland has three byways designated under the program: The Maryland Historic National Road, the Catoctin Mountain Byway along US 15, and the Chesapeake Country Byway that winds through Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The plan is being prepared by a team of planning, engineering, landscape architecture and historic preservation experts led by Lardner/Klein Landscape architects, P.C. The Religious Freedom Byway Advisory Committee has been working with the consultants to assist in the development of the management plan.

The committee reportedly represents people who live or work along the route, those that are responsible for its management, and those with extensive knowledge of the history of the area.

If the group recommends pursuing designation under the America’s Byways program, and the two County governments along the byway agree, a permanent group will be identified to implement the plan. The plan will be reviewed by each County’s Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners prior to submitting the route for designation through the America’s Byways Program.

The meeting will include a presentation by Jim Klein of Alexandria, Virginia, a nationally recognized expert in managing scenic byways and heritage touring routes. Mr. Klein will discuss the management strategies developed with the advisory committee.

The meeting will be held from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, February 27, 2008, at the Charles County Government Building in La Plata.

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