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Six Things To Know for Maryland Day 2017

By Carol Benson, Four Rivers Heritage Area’s Executive Director

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know in advance of this weekend’s Maryland Day Celebration in Annapolis and Southern Anne Arundel County (which we call “South County”, this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 24 to 26.

  1. It’s the best experience all year in the heritage area. That’s right, there are other terrific days in the Four Rivers Heritage Area, but this weekend offers specially-priced, unique activities (many planned only for Maryland Day) and a full view of the dedication and passion of the outstanding volunteers (and some staff!) doing what they love to do.
  2. This is the 10th year of this great collaborative event. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed, but yes, this is the event’s 10th year, and we’ve all learned a lot along the way. When it began, we offered “open house” activities all in the same day from 12 to 5. People loved it, but said they needed running shoes or bikes to try to get to as many sites as possible and they still didn’t make it to every site they wanted to! After 2 years, we got wise and spread the event over a 3-day weekend, and it works much better this way.
  3. It’s not going to be crowded. The event offers fun for the whole family, but it’s not going to get crowded. The participating sites have planned ahead, and there’s always room for you! The one exception is activities that require an advance registration, but these are rare.
  4. You will meet terrific people. I do, every year! And you will, too. Whether an individual running one of the activities, or a fellow visitor — take the time to have a conversation with someone new. I find Maryland Day weekend to be inspiring and uplifting, because of the people I meet.
  5. There’s new energy this year. The event organizers this year are Debbie Wood of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum and Erik Evans of the Inner West Street Association and First Sunday Arts Festivals (and a lot of other street festivals in town.) They brought new vision and new energy to the event, and as a result, it will be better than ever.
  6. All the information you need is on the event website,  The website, has everything listed, but you can also pick up your copy of the full-color event brochure (with map!) at the Visit Annapolis Visitors Center (26 West Street, Annapolis), or the City Dock Information Booth (downtown Annapolis), or at the activity sites.

    Looking forward to seeing you around town!




The Heritage Area Grant – The “How” and “Why” of the Designations Question

By Carol Benson, Ph.D. (Updated 2/22/17)

I am the Executive Director of the Four Rivers Heritage Area in Maryland, and it is grant-writing season. This year there are a greater number of “Intent to Apply” forms filed for the Maryland Heritage Areas grant opportunity than ever before. This is a very preliminary, non-binding, online submission form that marks the beginning of the application process. Not all of these Intents will be followed by full applications, and not all applications will be funded, as the funds are limited and the demand far overshadows the amount of funds available. In this article I’d like to share some insight on how best to answer one of the application questions that might seem a bit obscure.

This question is about other “designations.” Here’s how it is worded: “Does the project take place in an area that has other local, State or Federal designations? Check or list all that apply. (This is in addition to the Certified Heritage Area).”

What are the designations that are pertinent and why do they matter? They include:
• National historic district, cluster of NR properties or properties on the state inventory of historic places;
Or one of:
• Maryland’s Scenic Byways;
• Maryland’s designated Main Street communities;
• Maryland’s designated Arts & Entertainment districts;
• Maryland’s Priority Funding Areas;
• Maryland’s Sustainable Communities;
• Maryland’s Enterprise Zones;
• Maryland’s Communities of Opportunity
(Note, this is not a comprehensive listing of designations – there are a few more you might uncover!)

If you are applying for Heritage Area funding, your project must be located in one of the state’s 13 certified heritage areas, but how do you know if your project takes place in a location or area that has another designation? There are a few online resources that can help!

For many of these zones, including Heritage Areas, Priority Funding Areas, Main Streets, and many more, there is an interactive, GIS-based map for all of Maryland’s “Incentive Zones,” available on the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) website. Use this link ( and type in the address of your project. It is easy to use, and you can select different layers to check on the different designations listed.

Scenic Byways are not included in this resource; to see where Maryland’s Scenic Byways are located, use this link to explore: In Anne Arundel County, the Byway runs through South County and is named the “Roots & Tides” Byway,

If your project involves a property that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you are probably already familiar with that listing, but you can use this link to explore more about NR listings in Maryland:

Is your project located in a federal, state or local historic district? In Anne Arundel County there are 5 such districts, and two of them are in the Heritage Area (Downtown Annapolis and Owensville):,_Maryland. The “Colonial Annapolis” historic district as discussed in this article has received three different designations over the years, with slightly different boundaries (see below or download as a PDF: downtown-annap).


Annapolis Historic District Boundaries

So, now for the “Why?” Why is it important that you answer this question accurately? The reason is that, especially for state designations, each represents a significant investment of state funds and the state “manpower” and resources to administer these programs. Officials want to match up these strategic heritage-related, sustainability-focused, and/or economic development investments to leverage more funds as the various programs bolster and magnify one another. They also want you, the applicant organization, to understand the designations that relate to your project, and to become aware of how these programs work together for your location or region. So best of luck with your current and future applications, and please don’t hesitate to call our office with any questions!

What Your “Umbrella” Organization Can Do For You

dont-give-up-the-ship-croppedBy Carol Benson, Ph.D.

Many small nonprofit leaders and volunteers grow discouraged as they battle to keep their organization afloat, amid numerous challenges. Is this you?

Although we all know the pitfalls, we expect them to happen to other organizations, but not ours — and it’s frustrating to encounter the roadblocks ourselves. We want to avoid the roadblocks by knowing the “what” and the “why,” but often that isn’t enough. The struggles happen anyway. Maybe your Board is shrinking, due to some longtime stalwarts retiring at the same time. Or the leaders of your corps of volunteers, the ones who shoulder the most of the work, step away for whatever reasons, and there’s no one to step into their shoes, and suddenly the volunteer roster evaporates! Or some steady funders want to support new organizations, instead of the terrific ones like yours that have been returning for funding for several years. There’s nothing wrong with that, it sounds like good policy – but your organization will sorely miss that support!

It can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you! It may help to remind yourself that these are challenges that are part of the natural “growth” cycle of an organization and are very common, almost inevitable. But now it’s time to take action, and you need to know what to do first!

Start by reaching out. Your nonprofit may be part of an “umbrella” organization that has a lot to offer. What can that type of organization do for you?

1. They’ve got experience and are “good listeners.”
2. They might have contacts you can use.
3. They are usually building their own “toolbox” to help organizations just like yours.

Now, to ditch the hypothetical and talk turkey! I am an Executive Director of an “umbrella” organization, a state heritage area, the Four Rivers Heritage Area of Annapolis and Southern Anne Arundel County, Maryland. We are part of a system of state-certified heritage areas that function as “umbrella” organizations to heritage museums, historic sites and parks, and help knit them together to become a greater and stronger network. This list does describe what I, and my fellow heritage area directors, can do to help. We enjoy the calls! We enjoy the problem solving.

I have lots of experience, but of course it’s not comprehensive. I may not have encountered exactly your situation, but I will start by “thinking out loud” with you, because the conversation will tease out salient details that we can start with. I have contacts; they might or might not be the ones you need, but not only will I try to find a good one, I’ll call you if something else comes to mind, which is frequently what does happen. Finally, I am building a “toolbox,” and so is everyone else I work with. You might be surprised at what’s in there, or you might feel better knowing that overall resources are limited, and there’s no great answer that you missed, but there might be a resource or an approach you might not have known or thought about.

Here’s the best thing about “umbrella” organizations: we convene meetings that bring you together with your peers. These are wonderful sessions where generous people are sharing with one another their best practices, resources, and ideas, and things they’ve tried that have worked, and others that haven’t. That’s the “secret sauce.” We’ve got it. So don’t be afraid to go to your “umbrella” organization, or give them a call, and start the conversation!

Image: Flag from Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis. Credit: Carol Benson

Donovan Rypkema Leads Planning Discussions

Don Rypkema 2

Donovan Rypkema

On April 28, Four Rivers and the City of Annapolis hosted a roundtable discussion at the James Brice House in downtown Annapolis, with nationally-renowned speaker Donovan Rypkema of PlaceEconomics. Rypkema outlined the work that could be accomplished through a planned economic study analyzing the positive effects of historic preservation on the local economy. The roundtable group included many Four Rivers stakeholders from local non-profit organizations, the Anne Arundel County department of Planning and Zoning, the Maryland Historical Trust, and local residents. Topics discussed included input from the assembled stakeholders on questions they would like to see answered through such a study. Rypkema also spoke to a large group at the City Council Chambers in Annapolis that same evening as part of the celebration of “Preservation50,” which recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is the reason we have a federally-certified historic preservation program in Annapolis. Rypkema discussed his previous PlaceEconomics studies in cities across the United States including Raleigh, NC, Pittsburgh, PA, and San Antonio, TX.

Education Committee Seeks New Members

Four Rivers has a very active Education Committee, which is seeking new members! Any and all of our colleagues involved in education-related programming are invited to join in our efforts to raise the collective level of expertise on a variety of topics. The committee meets regularly throughout the year  and past topics of discussion have included ADA Accessibility, disaster planning, ideas for innovative public programming and new educational programs, the development and implementation of surveys to gauge visitor satisfaction, collaborations with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, measurable results for education-related grant writing, sustainability for heritage programming, peer review opportunities, and more. Workshop development is also a benefit of participation in the Education Committee; past workshops have included planned giving at your organization; how to talk about slavery and race at your site; “little-known Maryland nonprofit employment laws;” and emergency preparedness. Call our office at 410-222-1805 to find out about our next meeting; all are welcome!

Let’s Talk Birds: The Bald Eagle

By Donna L. Cole

Here it is – my final, guest blog post for Four Rivers Heritage Area about migratory birds.  For the grand finale, I want to focus on my favorite bird, which in this area might not migrate at all, but we’ll get to that in a minute.  First, you should know why it’s my favorite.  This is a bird I never once, not once, saw in my youth or in most of adult years, up until around five or six years ago.  Now – today, in the year 2016, this is a bird that my daughter has seen so much, she gives them the same amount of interest as she does to squirrels.  And yes, maybe that’s a teenager for you, but this bird is seen so often by us, around this area, and the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, they’ve become – well, kind of common.  Hard to believe. Imagine, if you will, a bird that was on the brink of extinction, one you would never see, except on money, statues and photographs, to that same bird today – which has become yes, a common sighting to those of us who look up a lot.  This is an extraordinary bird, with an even more extraordinary tale.  This is our national bird.

Let’s talk bald eagles.  How did bald eagles disappear and how did they make such a comeback?  There was habitat loss of course, but we also used a pesticide called dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and we used it liberally and frequently.  DDT adversely effected eggs of bald eagles and other birds to the point of greatly limiting or eliminating the possibility of hatching.  In 1962, a woman named Rachel Carson published a book called, Silent Spring, which warned of the dangers of DDT.  That book was the game changer, which led to the eventual ban of DDT in this country and the comeback of bald eagles (and other wildlife).    Now, you can maybe understand how for someone born in the 1960s, who wouldn’t have ever seen bald eagles, because this was the time of DDT – in fact, even for years after its use, was still the time of the lingering effects of DDT, would be so completely awe-struck at the first sighting of a bald eagle, they became her favorite bird.  And yes, I’ll always remember that first sighting – not one, but two bald eagles along the Severn River.

The bald eagle will, because of freezing temperatures and water, migrate south.  As their food, such as fish, becomes more difficult to get, the birds go to areas where it’s easier – where temperatures aren’t as extreme.   Because we happen to be in an in-between zone of sometimes freezing and sometimes not, there are bald eagles who stay here year-round.  For states south of us, the same goes.  And every year, more and more bald eagles are being seen – it’s so very cool to watch the numbers and sightings continue to go up and up.  History is changing before our very eyes.

Where can you see bald eagles?  Just look up – seriously.  There’s a pair I frequently see flying above Solomons Island Road, most often in between Lee Airport and the Annapolis Harbour Center. There are many (yes, many) near the confluence of the North and South rivers – two friends in recent history have reported seeing bald eagles doing Route 50 fly-overs where it crosses the South River.  I’ve also seen bald eagles at Quiet Waters, Sandy Point and London Town.  If you want to drive a little farther, the Eastern Shore is loaded with them.  For guaranteed sightings, head to Conowingo Dam, which is best late fall to early winter.

What can you do to help these birds continue to flourish?  If you’re a hunter and/or angler, switch to lead-free ammunition / tackle.  And for everyone, please don’t use poison baits for rodents. Bald eagles are raptors and will eat whatever they can find, including poisoned carcasses, which kills them too.

I highly recommend this video (in other words, you absolutely, positively have watch this video) –

Images: top, juvenile bald eagle; bottom, mature bald eagle. Credit: Donna L. Cole, Annapolis Creative

Juv bald eagleMature bald eagle

Let’s Talk Birds: Indigo Buntings

By Donna L. Cole

It’s another of those birds that makes me question if people are just messing with me.  They’ve seen them. They’ve shared photos of them.  They say the bird exists here – as in right here in the Four Rivers Heritage Area (during the warmer months).  In fact, I’ve even been told one of these birds frequents the campus of my daughter’s school, where I spend a lot of time  –  looking for birds.  And yet, here I am without any sightings of my own.  For the record, I’m not an indigo bunting denier.  I believe.

Let’s talk indigo buntings.  Like the other migratory birds I’ve written about, this one also spends its winters in warm climates.  And yes, once again, it’s the male that carries the colorific chromosome that gives them their stunning blue plumage.   Females, eh – not so much.  Here’s an interesting thought – according to the Raptor Resource Project, “We know that male birds conserve more sex-linked traits and pass them on to sons and daughters, but male plumage is more complicated than it appears.  Recent work published in the journal Evolution indicates that female birds were once as flashy as males. We think that sexual selection drove male color evolution (females prefer colorful males), and natural selection drove female loss of color (brighter females and young were more likely to be spotted by predators and competitors).”

Where can you see this magnificent migrant?  I sure would like to know.  According to the National Audubon Society, “Brushy pastures, bushy wood edges. For nesting favors roadsides, old fields growing up to bushes, edges of woodlands, and other edge habitats such as along rights-of-way for powerlines or railroads. Also in clearings within deciduous woods, edges of swamps. In the west, usually near streams.”

With all of those habitats, you should be able just about anywhere, right? Good luck and please do let me know when and where you have in the comments below.

Photo below: Male Indigo Bunting. Credit: National Park Service



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