Canal Place is positioned to take the next step in serving the heritage and recreational needs of western Maryland. Every Maryland county but Allegany and Garrett has a county recreation and parks agency. This deficiency speaks for itself.
At the recent public meeting of the Canal Place Task Force, I suggested that the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) might serve as a model for expanding the mission of Canal Place to better serve the community and region. It is the next logical step.
As a heritage area, Canal Place is already into tourism even though limited to heritage-oriented tourism. Heritage areas include natural resources as well as cultural and historical resources.
In its 2014 strategic plan, Canal Place is rebranding its Heritage Area to include all of Allegany County. Adding Garrett County is similar to adding Prince George’s County to MNCPPC.
An appropriate theme for this area, Canal Place is seeking to link geographic features that emphasize the transportation gateway theme. Canal Place has framed its mission in terms of preserving it regional heritage identity to protect and enhance the natural, archeological, historical, scenic and recreational resources.
The MNCPPC is a bi-county local government agency operating in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. It was established by the General Assembly in 1927 to provide long-range planning, and park acquisition and development. Since its inception, it has become one of the premier park and recreation agencies in the country.
It complements the work of county and city recreation and park agencies. Among its divisions, it has an enterprise division that operates golf courses and other recreational facilities on a for-profit basis. The Footer Dye Works exemplifies this public/private collaboration.
In defining historic preservation strategies, the secretary of the interior defined “rehabilitation” as the “process of making possible a compatible use for a property ... while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.” With its upscale apartments and businesses, the Footer Dye Works exemplifies the rehabilitation theme.
Canal Place is moving in the direction of MNCPPC. Its mission should be expanded to include three thrusts. First, it should continue with its Heritage Area focus and with its theme as a transportation gateway. Second, it should expand its focus to include general tourism. Rewatering the C&O canal exemplifies this thrust.
The third thrust is to expand its mission to include county-wide park and recreation services in Western Maryland.
For long-term success, it is important to serve the needs of local citizens. The three thrusts are not mutually exclusive of each other. The River Park at Canal Place exemplifies this thrust. It will serve both local citizens as well as tourists visiting the area. The Great Allegheny Passage trail has demonstrated this already.
Canal Place has positioned itself to address the specialized needs of Western Maryland. Like MNCPPC, it is an independent agency. It can fill the void of not having a county recreation and park agency and can help address tourism needs that are normally outside the domain of county recreation and park agencies.
Like the MNCPPC, it needs a dedicated revenue stream. By following the MNCPPC model, Canal Place has the potential to become a premier agency servicing the heritage, recreation and tourism needs of Western Maryland. It is an opportunity that the Canal Place Task Force needs to consider.
Robert B. Kauffman