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Civil War theme proposed for tourism center

July 11, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

WINCHESTER, Va. - A highway visitor's center catering chiefly to tourists taking in the region's Civil War historical sites might be located in Washington County, a Maryland official said Thursday.

The proposed center would be located near the Interstate 81/Interstate 70 interchange, a natural crossroads for Civil War tourists, said George Williams, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism.

From there, tourists could visit the battlefields at Antietam, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, and sites like Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, he said.

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"It tends to offer great opportunities," Williams said.

Williams pitched the idea at the annual Quad-State Legislative Conference, where state lawmakers from Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia gathered to discuss common issues.

He said his agency could have a plan together within 60 days. He said many issues need to be worked out, including the size and cost of the center, and who would pay for it.

Williams also said there are logistical reasons for developing a visitor's center that can be easily accessed from traffic coming from four different directions.

Many lawmakers appeared to welcome the cooperative approach to drawing tourists, and their dollars, to the region.

"From our perspective in West Virginia, it's a win-win situation," said Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley.

Previous attempts to develop a regional visitor's center have failed, but Maryland Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said it's an idea worth trying again, especially given the potential for making the area a travel destination.

"I'd like to try another run at it," Poole said.

Poole said that while the Civil War could be the focus, the center could promote other regional attractions, too.

The facility would add to efforts to encourage longer stays in the area, Williams said. He said he would like to have the center open by 2000.

In a related matter, conference participants agreed to study the idea of holding a Civil War heritage festival throughout the region each year.

Pennsylvania Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, said the festival could include encampments, re-enactments and other ceremonies marking the area's rich Civil War history. He said the event could be at least a week long, draw 100,000 or more tourists and benefit the region's hotels and restaurants.

"I really believe there is an enormous potential there," Punt said.

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