Flower wins aid of Boy Scouts, state

November 13, 1990|By Phillip Davis

An endangered flower, found in Maryland and just a handful of places in the rest of the world, will be protected under a new plan put together by environmentalists, the state government and the Boy Scouts of America.

Sometime next month, the state will take possession of 1,196 acres of land belonging to the Boy Scouts in Western Maryland, where the rare flower harperella is found. The purchase was approved by the state Board of Public Works last week. The cost, about $800,000, will come from Project Open Space funds.

The purchase was coordinated by the Maryland chapter of the Nature Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to preserving open space and biological diversity on selected tracts of land.

For several years, botanists in the state Department of Natural Resources have been concerned that harperella, a small white plant similar in appearance to Queen Anne's lace, was disappearing from its natural habitat along the Potomac basin.

This county's last extensive stand of the plant is located at the Boy Scout's Lill-Aaron Straus Wilderness Camp, just west of Hancock on the Allegany-Washington County line, said Willke Nelson, the assistant director of the Nature Conservancy.

The plant is on the federal government's endangered species register and is found on the rocky shores of Sideling Hill Creek, a pristine mountain creek deep within the camp's 1,196 acres. The creek begins along the Pennsylvania border and meanders through the Sideling Hill valley until it empties into the Potomac.

The only other place the plant is found in this area is on a creek in West Virginia that is rapidly being encroached upon by development, Mr. Nelson said.

The Nature Conservancy approached the Boy Scouts about selling the tract and putting it under state protection several years ago, and the deal finally went through last week, he said.

Chuck Lanham, the director of the Boy Scouts' Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said that although the scouts weren't looking to sell, the deal made sense.

Despite the Boys Scouts' best efforts, he said, the camp had only been sporadically used because it takes 2 1/2 hours to drive there from Baltimore.

In recent years, the scouts leased the land for use by the National Guard, which conducted wilderness training exercises there.

The $800,000 purchase price will be put into the scouts' endowment fund and will be used to improve its other major camp, Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation in Harford County.

"It's a beautiful camp, but it just wasn't used. This is good for us, because we are interested in preserving nature, too," Mr. Lanham said.

The scouts and the National Guard will be able to continue to use the property. But they will have to be careful not to disturb the plant or the watershed in general, because the stream valley has a number of rare and little-seen species.

Botanists have found shale barrens on the stream's shore, for example. The barrens -- outcroppings of the dark shale -- get very hot and dry. They are among the only places where cactus can be found growing in Maryland. A rare wildflower called the shale barren pussytoe has been found on the shale barrens near the stream.

In the creek, biologists have found a rare freshwater mollusk called the Green Floater that is listed as endangered in Maryland. Local hunters know they can find grouse, wild turkey and even bobcats on the property, which extends south from the state-owned Sideling Hill Wilderness Area.

"One of the biggest threats to the world environment comes from the loss of plant species," Mr. Nelson said, noting that modern treatments for cancer and other diseases had originated in rare plants.

"Harperella may not have an economic use now, but it may one day have a value beyond its natural beauty," he said.

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