by Lisa Tome
Linda Read's love for turtles helped Port Deposit turn a corner.
That's what town, county, and state officials all affirmed last week as they acknowledged that Read's desire to save the endangered Northern Map Turtle was the catalyst for establishing a visitor center and education facility in the town.
"This is a huge day for Port; this is the turning corner," said Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome, just minutes before the formal dedication of the Tome Visitor and Education Center began.
It's been a long time coming.
The Jacob Tome Gas House built in the 1850s is the only historic structure along the riverfront. The building is on the National Historic Registry. The gas house was donated to the Town of Port Deposit by the owners of Tome's Landing Marina 17 years ago.
The property around the gas house is a successful nesting ground for the endangered Northern Map Turtle. In partnership with the town, Towson University students have been studying the species since 2009. They use the area to study the nesting, feeding, mating, and other habits of the turtles.
The Town of Port Deposit received grants to renovate the 2,409 square foot structure and to make improvements to the surrounding area.
The interior first floor of the building will serve as a Visitor Center and will have restrooms as well as information for travelers. There will be displays regarding the Bainbridge and Paw Paw museums.
The second floor of the gas house will serve as the research and education center for the students from Towson. An observation deck and exterior staircase are building additions.
Mayor Tome recognized all those who made the project possible. He also provided history of the town and the said that the philanthropic sprit of the late Jacob Tome lives on with the donation of the building to the town by the owners of Tome's Landing. "It was like fireworks. It started off slow," said Tome. He then explained how Read's desire to save the turtles led to Towson University becoming involved.
Dr. Timothy Chandler from Towson University said the site "offers incredible opportunities for students." He also said the area offers research opportunities due to both the turtles and the history.
Former State Delegate Dr. David Rudolph said that no one knew that "a group of turtles would be the solution to the problem" of redeveloping Port Deposit. Rudolph also said that he had never heard of the Map turtle. He said that Read's vision and that of volunteers brought this project to fruition. "They never gave up," said Rudolph. "Very few of us here have the opportunity to change history...You can have an impact for generations to come and I'll continue to do all I can," he said.
State Senator Wayne Norman made a joke. "I heard the Northern Map turtle tastes like chicken," said the senator. Other politicians also read resolutions and spoke.
"You can't tell the people of Port Deposit something can't be done," said Mary Ann Lisanti, from the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway. This Visitor Center project completes the greenway.
Read's dedication was also honored. She unveiled the building plaque and May 3 was declared Linda Read Day. Although the building was dedicated, the Visitor Center and the Research and Education Center will officially open in early June.