“Do or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

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Have you ever looked for an item in the market, but it doesn’t seem to be on the same shelf where you usually find it?? 

It’s right where you thought it should be, but the label has been changed, and you didn’t recognize it. After using the product, you find that while the package is different, the contents are the same.

Likewise, the Canal Place Heritage Area has been “rebranded” with great fanfare to Passages of the Western Potomac Heritage Area. (See: “Local heritage area rebranded,” Aug. 7 Times-News, Page 1A.)

It’s another new, ornate and unwieldy name for something that’s no different than it ever was. This is about like calling a shop “a shoppe,” a prison “a correctional institution” or (our favorite) a warehouse “a fulfillment center.”

The rebranding thrilled Allegany County’s tourism officials a lot more than it thrilled us. We are being told that “It’s more than just a name change,” and it better be.

How many of our citizens even know what a heritage area is, and that we have one, or do they even care?

The new name supposedly reflects our transportation history, but will be meaningless by itself. Press releases and pamphlets for tourists won’t suffice.

Heritage areas are highly successful in other Maryland communities, as one of our readers recently explained. (See: “Expand Canal Place’s mission,” reader commentary, Aug. 9 Times-News.)

The labeling is new, but the contents aren’t, and that’s the problem. Canal Place is the heritage area’s cornerstone, but except for talking, performing studies, designing by committee (or in this case, an “authority”)  and applying for government grants, little of substance has been done to remedy its lethargy.

A few private elements of Canal Place are succeeding, but otherwise it is has gone downhill. If Canal Place doesn’t succeed, it’s not likely the Passages of the Western Potomac Heritage Area will amount to much.

A task force was formed last year to study Canal Place’s operations and assets and make recommendations as to what should be done with it. We’re waiting to hear what it says. 

Canal Place’s problems are significant: It is not readily accessible, vehicular traffic can quickly become congested, parking is insufficient and not user-friendly, and most of the attractions lie on the far side of an overhead bridge, partially obscured by trees.

Some people do come to Canal Place, but in recent years little has been done or even planned in the way of activities that would draw crowds. The vast parade ground is rarely used — if ever — and that wasn’t the case in years past when seafood festivals and other large events were held there.

Canal Place should anchor an area that holds incredible potential. 

The Great Allegheny Passage hiking and biking trail that runs through Canal Place is an astounding success. The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad has been fruitful before and can be again, if its problems are ironed out.

A planned makeover of downtown Cumberland should be spectacular when completed ... if money can be found to pay for it. A proposed River Park at Canal Place would include river access, a whitewater course, trail connections and a scenic overlook, but it’s only in the planning stages.

All the necessary pieces are available to put together an astonishing destination that will have everything residents and tourists could want. Communities elsewhere wish they had our assets — but probably would do more with them.

We’ve been waiting for years for it to come together, but it hasn’t. We’re running out of optimism, and so are other people.

As we have said before, we have no shortage of people who are adept at conceiving wonderful new ideas and being exhilarated by them, but apparently have no idea of what to do with them. 

Most of what goes on in Allegany County is handled competently. We rarely hear discouraging words about these things. In other areas, there is too much dysfunction and lack of leadership, and the Times-News frequently reports on their problems.

We often hear talk about how hard someone is trying. There’s too much trying, as our little green Star Wars friend Yoda might say, and not enough doing.

That said, we have had ample reason to talk lately about how progress is being made here in a number of areas because of increased cooperation, particularly between the governments of Allegany County and the city of Cumberland.

Even more and better cooperation, particularly between people who already have proved that they know how to make things work, might be the answer to a number of our problems.

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