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Battlefield task force chief storms out of meeting

February 24, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The chairman of the South Mountain Battlefield Task Force stormed out of a meeting Thursday, saying he disagrees with elements of making the battlefield into a state park.

"I've washed my hands. Have it your way. I'm selling my house and leaving," said George Brigham, who has worked for 15 years to preserve the Civil War battlefield surrounding his house.

The rest of the task force members said they're backing the plan, which will have a hearing next Friday in the House Environmental Matters Committee.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. warned the group that any infighting could hurt the chances of creating the battlefield.

"If you all don't get your act together very quickly, you're giving this governor and this legislature an easy reason to say no," said Taylor, D-Allegany/Garrett.

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The Washington and Frederick county delegations are sponsoring legislation this year to create the battlefield, which spans the two-county border.

The task force is asking the state to spend $733,000 over the next three years to upgrade a museum and other facilities for tourists who come to the battlefield. It also wants to build camp sites.

Brigham thinks the money would be better spent on a visitors' center away from the battlefield.

Daniel P. Spedden, park manager for the South Mountain Recreation Area, said a majority of task force members thought building a visitor's center was premature.

Task force members representing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, local residents, lawmakers and Civil War preservationists, said they had not yet discussed some of Brigham's other concerns.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said while he appreciates Brigham's hard work, Thursday was not the time for such a discussion.

The task force's priority should be the legislation and getting Gov. Parris Glendening to add funding in his proposed 2001 budget, Shank said.

"To make your dreams a reality, that has to happen first," Shank said.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers is asking the governor for $500,000 a year for operating costs.

Task force members said they will present a united front at next week's hearing. Brigham said he wouldn't testify, either for or against the park.

Brigham said he feels strongly about the park's future.

"Over 15 years I've been putting this park together in my head," said Brigham, a founder of the Central Maryland Heritage League.

The park is to be concentrated on 4,000 acres that are already publicly owned or protected by conservation easements.

The Sept. 14, 1862, battle was fought on 25,000 acres in the area of Turner's, Fox's and Crampton's gaps.

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