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Michener’s Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway Links Shore Heritage

Sep 27, 2012 11:00AM ● Published by Anonymous

You could cruise through Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, and Dorchester counties, and enjoy the scenery. But if you’re looking to make a day trip out of it, then you might want to do some exploring. But how are you supposed to know where to go exactly?

Thankfully, the Maryland State Highway Administration has done your homework. With input from the counties’ offices of tourism, the organization designated a stretch of mid-Shore roadway as a state scenic byway in the year 2000. Now, thanks to a 2005 grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byway Program, that byway is going to become a reality.

The path takes its name from Michener’s 1978 novel. Chesapeake tells the interconnected stories of four families whose lives affected or were affected by the Eastern Shore. Focusing on events from warring Native American nations and the arrival of English settlers, all the way up to the Watergate scandal, Michener’s book brings the history of the area to life.

Michener lived in St. Michaels while he worked on Chesapeake, and wrote its original outline in the tavern of Oxford’s Robert Morris Inn. The original manuscript is kept at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton, and while it’s not on public display, the Maryland Room, where he did much of his research, is open during the library’s normal hours.

The byway’s planning committee recognized the way Chesapeake weaves together the mid-Shore’s maritime and agricultural heritage. It mimicked their hopes that the route would help travelers find and enjoy destinations where land and water merge into the Chesapeake Bay. So, they dubbed it Michener’s Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway.

“Although Michener’s novel is a work of fiction, the themes depicted are very much factual,” says Caroline County Tourism Director Kathy Mackel. “Visitors who traverse the byway will get to experience the living history of the Chesapeake region.”

To bring the byway to life, the tourism directors enlisted the help of Lardner/ Klein Landscape Architects, P.C. out of Alexandria, Virginia. As the primary authors of the corridor management plan, Lardner/Klein have worked closely with the advisory committee. They’ve identified points of interest, assessed whether they’re ready for visitors, and determined what kind of future preservation issues need to be addressed.

The group is headed by Jim Klein.

“Jim has been a stellar leader, planner, researcher, and community advocate throughout the entire process,” says Talbot County Tourism Director Debbi Dodson. “Basically, he’s a rock star!”

Michener’s Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway will join a larger network of scenic byways and trails within the Delmarva Peninsula. The nationally-designated Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway stretches from Chesapeake City to Kent Island, with an extension into Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall. On the Lower Shore, the Blue Crab Scenic Byway takes over.

After its designation, Michener’s Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway will link up with the Chesapeake Country National Scenic Byway at Route 213, and connect with the Blue Crab Byway at Route 50 in Mardela Springs.

“The goal is to create one byway—The Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway—with three regions emphasizing different aspects of the byway,” says Klein. “Michener’s Chesapeake and the Chesapeake Bay side of the Blue Crab are looking to extend the National Scenic Byway designation, which currently ends in Queen Anne’s County.”

Fortunately, the roads that the byway will utilize are already constructed. Now it’s just a matter of helping travelers recognize and use them.

“Marking sites along the route will be done through the existing Tourism Area Corridor Signing Program (those brown signs [on the side of the road]),” says Klein. “With the advances in mobile technology, it’s becoming less and less necessary to sign everything, but becoming more necessary to utilize mobile applications and GPS technologies.” The Maryland Office of Tourism and the Maryland State Highway Administration are taking the lead on developing such mobile apps, in the hope that they will be ready by the time Michener’s Chesapeake Country Byway is set up.

Once the byway is marked, the planning committee hopes that it will create a seamless travel experience for heritage tourists.

“Michener’s Byway appeals to a range of visitors with varied interests: heritage enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, conservationists, history buffs...the list could go on,” says Mackel. “The byway will provide them with an additional way to explore this portion of the Eastern Shore.”

Doing so, though, requires linking towns and hyper-local stops with larger swaths along the route.

“Generally, the towns are the focal points that offer more services and programming, while the rural areas provide most of the nature-based and heritage-based tourism,” says Klein. “The goal is to increase the length of stay by offering a broader array of things to do and see, and link those together using the byway.”

Such expected stops include locations throughout the mid-Shore. Drivers traveling along Michener’s Chesapeake will be able to make their way seamlessly from the Old Wye Grist Mill and Wye Oak State Park in Wye Mills, all the way down to Hoopersville in Dorchester County. And, it’ll direct them if they’d like to make a stop at Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely or the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

But implementing the byway isn’t going to come without some bumps in the road. Planners have to account for potential problems as varied as making the route clear, getting people out of their cars, and adapting to sea level rise. And all of this comes with a significant price tag.

“The two most significant challenges have to do with funding and financing,” says Klein. “This is being addressed through more collaboration and cooperation among sites and related programs to better leverage funding opportunities that do exist.”

Currently, there’s no timeline for the execution of the byway. Its three phases include adopting the byway management plan, developing a data-sharing system to maintain and update the GIS (graphic information system) inventory of existing lands, and sharing and transmitting conservation priorities.

“The next step is the completion of a more detailed interpretive plan that will spell out more of the site-specific interpretive recommendations,” says Klein. “Once that plan is completed, then funding will be pursued for such things as new exhibits and waysides.”

One thing that all the planners can be sure of, though, is the excitement they share.

“This is the golden opportunity to connect all counties on the Eastern Shore, and, hopefully, be the beginning of a marketing partnership for the Eastern Shore,” says Dodson. “Financially, the more we offer travelers, the longer they stay, the more money they spend, and the business climate grows stronger.”

“I agree with Debbi,” adds Klein. “The most exciting thing about the byway concept is the opportunity it offers for bringing together a wide range of heritage tourism interests, who, working together, can create a stronger and more dynamic destination.”

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