The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail was inaugurated Monday at Baltimore’s Fells Point, the official start of a major National Park Service project to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812,
“People want to touch history, and now we have over 500 miles of water and land trail,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, (D-Md.), who sponsored the original legislation establishing the trail in 2008 along with former Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.
The trail includes 25 information kiosks and dozens of trail markers, as well as a web site (www.starspangledtrail.net) and a planned mobile app with maps, links and information about the war’s history in the Chesapeake region.
But even as the trail is officially launched, park officials and elected representatives acknowledged that future funding to completely develop the national trail tracing the path of the British invasion on land and water through Maryland, Virginia and the District is uncertain.
“In these times, it’s not an easy thing,” said John Maounis, the trail superintendent.
“Funding for parks generally is going to be a struggle,” Rep. John Sarbanes, (D-Md.), son of the former senator, said in an interview after the event at Broadway Plaza in Fells Point.
Sarbanes said funding to develop more trail amenities, including visitor facilities and more interpretive signing, will depend on mustering public support for national parks and trails.
“That’s exactly what that thing does,” Sarbanes said, gesturing to a three-sided Star-Spangled trail kiosk that will be installed in Fells Point describing the war’s history in the region.
“It makes people stop, read and think about the history they’re walking through,” Sarbanes added.
“You take the national park to the people, and today’s National Park Service is all about that,” said Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland Bicentennial Commission.
The trail is managed and funded through a partnership of federal, state and local agencies, private organizations and bicentennial commissions in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Among the most critical funding for the trail was a $1.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s scenic byways program in 2009.
A new $98,000 highway grant will be used for marking the the trail in the District and Virginia.and printing brochures, Maounis said.
But such funding may not be available down the road. “Congress is looking at zeroing out the scenic byway program,” said Suzanne Copping, project manager for the trail. “We’re all a bit stressed about that.”
Additional money is earmarked from sales of the trail’s companion book, “In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake,” as well commemorative War of 1812 coins from the U.S. Mint
Funding also comes from corporate sources and other private sector money. The trail kiosks, Pencek noted, include “something you don’t normally see on a National Park Service sign—the logo of AT&T.”