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Welcome Center to reopen

(4/1) The State of Maryland has begun to open selected, strategic welcome centers along key highways in the hopes of generating an increase in tourist trade.

One of the centers slated for re-opening was identified on March 20 at a briefing held at Catoctin Mountain Orchard as being the Emmitsburg area, Route 15 Mason-Dixon Discovery Center, which could be re-opened by the end of May.

The local center has sat idle for the past couple of years, with only its parking, restrooms and vending machines remaining accessible to travelers and truckers.

Hannah L. Byron, assistant secretary of Tourism, Film and the Arts with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said March 20, "It has been a difficult road. I did not want to shut down the (Emmitsburg) center at all."

Forced by economic cuts to finally pull the plug on the facility, Byron said, "Re-opening Emmitsburg was my number one priority."

The ongoing Civil War sesquicentennial, including the upcoming, 2013 commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, provided impetus to get the "key" Route 15 center back on-line.

Byron said the state is expecting to have the center back in operation on Memorial Day weekend.

John Fieseler, executive director of Tourism Council of Frederick County, said the re-opening was the result of a "creative effort" on the part of Tourism, Film and the Arts.

To accomplish a re-opening, the state and county representatives have pursued grants and sought volunteers, and are also exploring the possibility that a portion of the center complex will be used for state storage "and other opportunities."

Byron said "some negotiations are ongoing" to help keep the center open, for at least four days a week. "Hopefully, as time goes on, more than that."

A number of state visitor centers were closed over the past several years as Maryland plunged into economic woes leading to dramatic budget crunches. Among the casualties was the Route 15 welcome center.

Catoctin Mountain Orchard owner Robert Black has been credited with his persistent effort to inspire the state to reopen the Emmitsburg area facility.

"I guess I got tired of going by the center (and seeing it closed)," he said. "I could hardly stand that, and decided to make a little noise and get things (a possible re-opening) back on course."

Fieseler explained that state visitor centers became an early victim of economic downturns. "Obviously the state has been hit (with spending constraints). Tourism was cut back. You have to have money to spend it."

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