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A new high point for Maryland

March 23, 2009

There's a splendid book (I forget the author) due for release this fall on the history of the Western Maryland mountains. It boldly asserts (I have been graciously provided with an advance copy) that the highest point in Maryland is a spot in Garrett County known as Hoye Crest, at 3,360 feet above sea level.

But there is a problem with this declaration. Apparently.

According to a clip from The (Garrett County) Republican that was sent to me by Doug Arey, there is now an actual bill before the General Assembly to officially designate Hoye Crest as, well, the highest point in Maryland.

I didn't know the title was up for grabs.

This is just another case of our own ineffective, no-account legislative delegation dropping the ball. If they had any degree of proactiveness, they could have slipped in a bill designating Quirauk Mountain or some other place in Washington County as the highest point in Maryland. Now Garrett County has first-mover status.

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But if legislatures have the power to designate geological features, they have more power than I thought. If they can pass a law requiring Hoye Crest to be the highest point in Maryland, they ought to be able to enact legislation saying that all our children are "A" students and that there is no such thing as a budget shortfall.

Personally, I think the General Assembly is aiming low. Why not designate Hoye Crest as the highest point in the United States? That would bring us some tourists, for sure. And as nationwide geography tests show, most Americans won't know the difference. They will stand atop Hoye Crest and, not seeing anything taller from that vantage point, it will make sense to them.

But this brings up another point, that being that most Marylanders probably don't know that Hoye Crest is our own highest point. Sen. George Edwards said that was his thinking when he introduced the bill.

"Most just think of Backbone Mountain as being the highest point in Maryland, but that is not correct," Edwards told The Republican.

I'm not sure that's true. I doubt most people have heard of Backbone Mountain, either. All they know is that Maryland's highest point is "probably out to the west somewhere."

Matter of fact, three out of five lawmakers have probably never heard of Garrett County. They would be astonished to learn that Maryland doesn't end at Frederick.

Hoye Crest is actually on the Backbone Mountain ridgeline and is owned by a subsidiary of a Texas land-leasing company, which means that the mountain peak is probably eligible for federal bailout funding.

But what's most alarming to me is that, without a designation by the state legislature, Maryland might not HAVE a highest point. Here we are running along happily with an Assembly-approved State Cat (calico); State Dessert (Smith Island Cake); State Gem (Patuxent River stone); State Folk Dance (square dance); State Exercise (walking); and State Dinosaur (City Light Plant). But no State Highest Point. This is a recipe for chaos.

Of course no one has asked Hoye Crest if it wants to be our highest point; it might show up at the committee hearing and say "no thanks," especially if votes in its favor are going to put it on the hook for future campaign contributions. I know if I were a mountaintop, or anything, attention from the state capital is the last thing I'd want.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com

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