Eastern Montgomery grumbles about empty spots on tourism map

September 4, 2013

The map on the Montgomery County Conference and Visitors Bureau Web site is chocka­block with suggested destinations and activities — as long as you don’t venture east of New Hampshire Avenue. The bureau is taking some heat because a big chunk of the eastern county is depicted as a no-man’s land, with nary an icon for the Sligo Creek Golf Course, or the Paint Branch hiking trail.

The uncharted territory was flagged over Labor Day weekend on the Facebook pages of the Just Up The Pike blog and State Rep. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), whose District 14 includes the region.

It’s not just the map that was found wanting, but restaurant listings that offer Dairy Queens in Bethesda and Rockville but not popular Burtonsville establishments such as Chapala, Seibels or Cuba de Ayer. Burtonsville, for that matter, is nowhere to be found. Same for Route 29 (Colesville Road/Columbia Pike).

This touches a nerve in the east county, where jobs and growth have been scarce compared to many thriving communities west of Rockville Pike. It’s especially galling since the bureau, tasked with promoting Montgomery, got a big bump from the county government in the 2014 budget, doubling its cut of hotel/motel tax revenues from 3.5 percent to 7 percent and bringing its county funding to $1.2 million.

County leaders are hoping that the White Oak, Cherry Hill and Hillandale communities will eventually benefit from plans for a “science gateway” that attracts jobs and employers to the Federal Research Center, where the Food and Drug Administration is consolidating its headquarters.

On the other hand, that’s not exactly the kind of destination that would compel the Griswolds to load up their station wagon — unless County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Burtonsville home counts as a tourist site.

Even the area’s two district representatives on the County Council were a bit pressed to come up with some enticing options for visitors.

“I’m sure there are things there, but I would have to think about it,” said Valerie Ervin (D- Silver Spring), before mentioning hiking along the Paint Branch.

“There are some amazing federal agencies,” said Council President Nancy Navarro. “There are some amenities, but it is true the east county suffers from that imbalance in amenities and jobs. This map in a way does reflect the reality and why we have to work so hard to change it.”

Bureau president and CEO Kelly Groff said Wednesday that she was not aware of the online discussion but had spoken to Navarro’s chief of staff about the issue.

“They’re great points that we will take a look at,” she said. “Nothing was intentional and we’re working on the changes now.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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