Cheryl Brown and her two teenage sons spent last year cruising Route 301 in Waldorf to chronicle, in a thick spiral notebook, the changing commercial landscape. Now, Brown has turned their findings into a business directory, map and newsletter to help residents -- new and old -- navigate an area that even she acknowledges can be overwhelming.
"This is turning into a little city," said Brown, a business consultant who moved to Waldorf five years ago from Prince George's County.
Her newsletter -- dubbed Crain Corridor Connection (Route 301 is also known as Crain Highway) -- is one of three Southern Maryland publications introduced this summer by local residents. While they target different audiences by location, race or business interest, all three are aimed at bringing residents of the fast-growing area closer together.
By day, Reginald Kearney manages a Safeway in Northwest Washington. He has run for Charles County commissioner, and now he is trying out the role of editor and publisher.
The slogan for his weekly newspaper, Our Week, is "capturing the flavor of Southern Maryland." Kearney hopes it is appealing to the region's growing black population, which accounts for 30 percent of Charles County's residents. Our Week costs 50 cents a copy; the two newsletters are distributed free. All three publications sell ads.
Our Week has included articles about the first black Charles County commissioner -- Edith J. Patterson (D) -- and the first black woman to direct a funeral home in the county. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who is exploring a bid for governor, was featured prominently on the front page after his visit with black leaders.
Kearney also runs news stories from the wire services focusing on national and international minority figures involved in politics and the entertainment industry.
"We're trying to bring a new flair, a different point of view to the news," Kearney said.
On the eastern side of the county, Sue Sligh began mailing 1,500 free copies of the Hughesville Gazette this month to residents and businesses near the crossroads of Routes 5 and 231.
The monthly newsletter's first edition includes both personal and political news. The cover has graduation photos of Sligh's son Mychal and his classmates from Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf. Inside, a county planner updates readers about construction of a state road that will skirt Hughesville and help reduce congestion.
Sligh, who moved to Hughesville seven years ago and has worked on a similar publication in Upper Marlboro, will rely on articles from residents and government officials that she hopes will "pull the little village together."
There is an online poll, for instance, on the newsletter's Web site -- www.hughesvillegazette.com -- that asks participants how long they have lived in Hughesville.
The Hughesville Gazette serves as much as a call to action as a venue for residents to share news and personal photos. Last spring, residents fought a proposal by the county for a minor league baseball stadium that some thought would bring more traffic to the area and ruin its rural character.
Pauleen Brewer, a member of a Hughesville residents committee, writes in the newsletter, "If I have learned anything this past year and a half, it is that we must stay vigilant and involved or risk losing control over future decisions about our village and Charles County."
The Crain Corridor Connection, which Brown plans to publish quarterly, invites local business owners to share their perspectives on the community and "inform residents of vital changes."
Brown, for one, said she would like to have known about the opening this summer of a Hooters restaurant that abuts her neighborhood.
"I was shocked," she said. "Development is happening so fast, but people can still be involved."