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South Mountain battlefield bill signed

May 18, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Wearing a Union infantry uniform identical to one worn at the 1862 Battle of South Mountain, Al Preston watched another historic event take place Thursday.

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Gov. Parris Glendening signed a law establishing South Mountain as Maryland's first state battlefield.

"I'm just proud to be here. Wild horses couldn't keep me away," said Preston, assistant manager of the South Mountain Recreation Area, which includes part of the battlefield.

The bill signing was largely symbolic. The General Assembly passed the law in April and it won't go into effect until October.

Glendening didn't include money in the state's 2001 budget to develop the battlefield as a tourist attraction.

But supporters said they wanted to demonstrate how important the battlefield is for Washington and Frederick counties.

"It was important we came dressed, to show our enthusiasm," said Del. Louise Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

Snodgrass wore a pumpkin-colored period dress with long sleeves and full-length hoop skirt.

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The South Mountain contingent stood out among the dozens of people milling around the State House on Thursday as Glendening signed more than 200 bills into law.

Supporters had been waiting with bated breath, until late Wednesday afternoon, when the governor released the final list of bills he would sign this year.

"I figured if he didn't sign it, we'd have a Civil War," Snodgrass joked.

There were some tense moments this legislative session when supporters feared they wouldn't be able to get the bill passed.

A Baltimore County senator threatened to kill the bill after local lawmakers refused to support a land condemnation bill for his county.

"It was a hard-fought battle," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Also attending the bill signing was Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who helped save the bill in the final days of the legislative session in April.

The lawmakers were joined by Neal Welch, a regional planner for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who was dressed as a Confederate soldier, and Margaret Magruder of the Friends of Gathland State Park.

"It is historic for us and I think everyone worked very hard to get it passed," Magruder said.

Battlefield supporters said they will try to persuade state officials to put money for the park in the state's fiscal 2002 budget.

"It's going to take a lot of cooperation between the delegation and the executive branch," Welch said.

Michael Morrill, the governor's spokesman, made no guarantees of future battlefield funding. He said Glendening signed the bill because it fits his land preservation goals.

"It reflects the governor's and the state's commitment to preserve historic and cultural areas," Morrill said.

The state owns about 2,500 acres of the battlefield under the South Mountain Recreation Area; 4,000 more acres are protected by preservation easements.

A task force estimated it will cost $733,000 over the next three years for one-time costs of landscaping, building upgrades and exhibits to describe the battle.

The Sept. 14, 1862, battle was the first Civil War fighting in Maryland.

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