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Battlefield progresses in House

March 14, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Tuesday to designating South Mountain a state battlefield, but not before a debate over entrance fees.

A Montgomery County, Md., lawmaker wanted to limit the fee to $2, the same fee charged at Antietam National Battlefield visitor's center, arguing that the public should have unlimited access to the hallowed ground.

Without a cap, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources can set fees to cover the costs of operating the battlefield. Anything left over would go to the state's general fund, he said.

"Let's not turn this into an opportunity to raise taxes," said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery.

Dembrow's proposal failed by a vote of 37 to 87, with all six Washington County delegates opposed.

"The amendment was well-intentioned, but it wasn't necessary," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Local lawmakers said they weren't worried about fees being excessive.

Most of the park will be open for picnicking. The fee would apply only to a museum or visitors center, Shank said.

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DNR needs the ability to charge a fee so resources aren't drained from other state parks, Shank said.

Shank and Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, have been working with DNR to get money for the battlefield park added to Gov. Parris Glendening's budget.

A task force estimates it will cost about $500,000 a year to hire six people to run the battlefield.

The task force also recommends spending $733,000 over the next three years on one-time costs of landscaping, building upgrades and exhibits to describe the battle.

The battlefield is the site of the first Civil War engagement in Maryland.

The Sept. 14, 1862, battle was fought on 25,000 acres straddling the border of Washington and Frederick counties.

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

The House is expected to give final approval to creating the battlefield later this week after which the proposal will go to the Senate.

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