whose flattened wallets left behind $8 million -- were drawn to southern Maryland this year by special events commemorating the state's 350th birthday, officials said last week.
"Nineteen eighty-four was a very, very important watershed year for southern Maryland," said Gary Hodge, executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland. "Before last year, I don't think many people knew we existed."
Preliminary figures from the state comptroller's office indicate that "the 400,000 visitors we attracted for special events staged this year spent an average of $20 each or $8 million in the three-county area," Hodge said, referring to Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties. Although festivities were scattered around the state for the anniversary, much of it was centered on the three "mother" counties because they were home to the original settlers.
Individual tallies of tourists visiting special attractions or events indicate 1984 was indeed a banner year for the area, although more remote Calvert County probably benefited less from the 350th anniversary hoopla than St. Mary's and Charles counties, officials said.
Visitors to Maryland's first capitol, the St. Mary's City statehouse, jumped from 25,245 in the first six months of 1983 to 125,182 during the same period this year, said Kurt Alverson, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism.
"Lord Baltimore's World," a series of historical pageants using 100 actors and elaborate movie sets to depict life in 17th century Maryland, attracted 44,500 people on the 10 consecutive weekends the dramas were staged in the three counties, Hodge said.
Even last May's freezing, rain-soaked reenactment of the first Maryland settlers' landing on St. Clements Island brought 5,000 die-hard celebrants to the rural tobacco community in St. Mary's County, a two-hour drive southeast of Washington.
Alverson said total revenue from travel-related purchases in 1984 in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties should be higher than the $24.9 million, $5.3 million and $14.1 million generated by the three counties respectively in 1983 from drinks, food, entertainment, motels and marina, camping and fishing fees paid by tourists.
"Most of the hotels and motels are on the Rte. 301 corridor, so Charles got much of that revenue," Alverson said, while St. Mary's was host to most of the money-generating anniversary events and Calvert benefited peripherally from renewed interest in the region.
Final 1984 figures for state travel and tourism revenues will not be available until next spring, Alverson said.
Eager to ride what he calls "the coattails of the 350th anniversary celebration" and pump the region's historical and recreational selling points for all they are worth, Hodge said the Tri-County Council will produce a 30-second television spot for next summer. They will be similar to two that aired extensively as prime-time public service announcements on area stations this year.
A onetime, $15,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Economic and Community Development will pay for the 1985 spot, scheduled for filming early in the spring.