Watermen Heritage Tourism Training Program Honored by Maryland Historical Trust

The Watermen Heritage Tourism Training Program, a project developed by the Chesapeake Conservancy in partnership with the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Coastal Heritage Alliance, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, has been selected by the Maryland Historical Trust to receive a 2013 Maryland Preservation Partnership Award.

The Watermen Heritage Tourism Training Program (WHTTP) introduced commercial watermen to the emerging field of heritage tourism. The program instructs watermen and family members in topics including: thematic tour development, community based tourism, historic and cultural community asset identification, storytelling and heritage interpretation, maritime history, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, vessel survey, business plan development, and potential funding sources.

The Conservancy program, begun in June 2010, reached watermen from Somerset, Dorchester, Talbot, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles Counties. It was funded with money from the Blue Crab Disaster Relief Fund, a NOAA program administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. To date, over 80 watermen have completed the 5 day course and received a heritage tour guide certificate from the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

Several graduates have begun heritage tourism businesses to supplement their work on the water. Led by the Chesapeake Conservancy, the partners engaged in the WHTTP are helping to market these tours through a newly created website, www.watermenheritagetours.org.

Last year, Preservation Maryland listed the watermen as an endangered Maryland icon, highlighting the need for programs such as the WHTTP.

This year, the Maryland Historical Trust, in making their award, wrote, “Thanks to the vision and dedication of the program’s consortium of sponsoring partners, this effort far exceeds any prior initiative to incorporate Maryland watermen in the establishment of a community-based approach to cultural heritage preservation.”

Senator Barbara Mikulski, Maryland’s senior U.S. Senator, said, “The Chesapeake Bay is part of who we are as Marylanders. It is part of our heritage, our culture and is our greatest natural resource. I promised to stand up for Maryland’s watermen as they faced a potential disaster to their way of life, and promises made are promises kept. Through the Watermen Heritage Tourism Training Program, we’re working to preserve watermen’s traditions and their opportunity to work on the water, while also helping them face the realities of the global economy and the myriad of environmental factors facing our beloved Bay. I am pleased to see this program recognized for its extraordinary efforts to ensure watermen have been, and will continue to be, partners in preserving the Bay for us and future generations.”

Joel Dunn, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, accepted the award on behalf of the partnership. “We are gratified that the Maryland Historical Trust has recognized the value and achievements of this program,” he said, adding, “we are particularly pleased that the award recognizes the partnership that created and managed the project, because our partners brought expertise and passion to the project that made it successful.”

Mike Vlahovich, Founding Director of the Coastal Heritage Alliance, which facilitated the hands-on training, said, “Providing our watermen families the opportunity to positively influence how tourism develops within their communities is a concept that has been long overdue. This training program has helped to empower the very stakeholders whose culture has been most at risk due to unregulated and misguided tourism initiatives within Maryland’s coastal communities. As partners, we have done more than just train tour guides; rather, we have launched a new generation of ambassadors representing some of the best cultural traditions that Maryland has to offer.”

“I am extremely proud of the watermen and their families who participated in this program from the beginning and who are looking at ways to preserve and promote our culture on the water,” said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. “This could not have been accomplished with such success without our partners and I am grateful to the Maryland Historical Trust for recognizing its importance.”

Langley Shook, President of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, said, “The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is honored to be a part of this. Watermen carry a central part of Chesapeake heritage with them when they work out on the Bay. This program has made the watermen’s stories and cherished traditions more accessible to the public at large, and we and our culture are much richer for it.”

According to the Trust, The Maryland Preservation Awards are presented annually by the Board of Trustees of the Maryland Historical Trust and are the highest level of recognition for historic preservation, heritage education, and community development projects in the State.

The Awards honor significant achievements by individuals, businesses, contractors, non-profit organizations, and local governments to identify, protect, and enhance Maryland’s historic places and communities. The awards began in 1975 with the creation of the Calvert Prize and since then have been presented to more than 250 individuals and projects in all regions of the State.

The award will be presented on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 4:30PM in the Governor Calvert Ballroom in the Governor Calvert House in Annapolis.