Southern Maryland Heritage Area on Oct. 28 announced $40,000 in seed grants awarded to significant heritage tourism projects in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

The group had its greatest response to the grant program to date, with over $70,000 in seed grant requests.

Grants are focused on preserving the heritage of the region through innovative tourism, excellence in cultural and natural resource conservation, and unique educational opportunities.

“Last year was the first time we could offer $40,000 and we had about $60,000 in requests. This year it was over $70,000 [in requests]. I expect that to grow,” Lucille Walker, executive director of the Southern Maryland Heritage Area program, said in an interview.

According to Walker, she is looking for ways to grow grant funding even further after the program has been increasing available funds since she started in 2016.

It was able to make the leap to $40,000 when the counties started contributing more.

“The first year I was here, [funds] were at $10,000, and then we got it to $15,000, and then through the counties’ contributions being more into this office we are able to use that to give more back to the counties … That’s one of the things the heritage society does,” she said.

For St. Mary’s County, the board of directors selected four organizations for the award: the Friends of St. Clement’s Island and Piney Point Museums was given $3,400 for its Black Diamond Commemoration Week; the Greenwell Foundation was given $2,500 for the Explore Greenwell program to roll it out around the region; St. Mary’s County Historical Society was given $2,000 for its Speaking Historically speaker series; and the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions was given $1,000 for preserving and sharing African American histories, according to a press release.

“We are truly honored that this important event was selected for grant funding,” Karen Stone, manager of the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, said in a press release, adding “the Black Diamond disaster has often been overshadowed by other Civil War happenings, with the result that the 87 men who lost their lives have been mostly forgotten by history. By putting on this weekend commemoration here at the museum, we bring attention to their stories.”

Mike Brown, president of the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions of St. Mary’s County, said that the grant has been helpful to the organization over the past few years.

This year, “the grant has been very instrumental in helping us continue interviews,” for the Preserving and Sharing African American Histories project, which has worked on interviewing people in St. Mary’s who have experienced segregation in the past, he said.

The cap for the grant is $5,000 and, according to Walker, most qualified organizations received at least half of what they requested.

Other awards included $3,000 for the Calvert County commissioners’ pollinators and native plants signage in Calvert and $5,000 to the Hughesville Civic Alliance for the Winstead Tobacco Packing Plant feasibility study in Charles County.

“I think this [feasibility study] is such a key cornerstone for the whole area in Hughesville. Get this feasibility study done and see what’s possible, and that also includes a heritage tourism component. … They got the full amount of the grant because they were matching other grants and we all felt very committed to having Hughesville kind of move forward,” Walker said.

The main responsibility of the heritage area’s board of directors “is to review grants and make decisions about the grants.”

“My responsibility is to be involved with every grant application so that I can help them make it as strong as possible and also guide them to what might be the strongest aspect of their program,” Walker said, mentioning that “these grants show all the different nonprofits that are working really hard to showcase different parts of our region.”

Twitter: @MadisonEntNews

Twitter: @MadisonEntNews