A dozen horses graze on a hillside pasture crested by a stately farmhouse just south of Darlington.
On another hillside, about two miles south, new houses have sprouted in a field overlooking nearby farms and woods.
The two scenes show the diverging paths facing the Darlington area, a farming community in northeastern Harford County.
The Deer Creek Watershed Association, a Harford-based conservation group, wants Darlington to continue to look like the first picture -- one of tranquil horse farms, cornfields and orchards.
That's why the group's members plan to start a new program to protect the village's farms from development. The association last month received an $8,000 grant from the Maryland Environmental Trust that will be used to educate landowners on options to protect their land from the path of development.
Some of the grant money will be used to protect land surrounding Uniontown in Carroll County. But the group plans to focus on Darlington, said Johnston N. Hegeman, a member of the Deer Creek Watershed Association.
"Darlington is worth saving," Hegeman said. "It's probably one of the most untouched historic places in the state."
The association and its consultant will meet with landowners to encourage easements and other deed restrictions to contain development, Hegemansaid.
By containing development, the association believes the historic character of Darlington will be preserved, Hegeman said.
Many of the structures in the village, in the northeastern area of the county, already are protected, Hegeman said.
The village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, therefore, has remained relatively untouched by the county's rapid growth over the past decade.
Hegeman said the association hopes to keep Darlington that way.
"Some of us feel development was proceeding at a breakneck pace," Hegeman said. "Undoubtedly, it will pick up again. As you drive around the countryside now, you see houses popping up."
The association, Hegeman said, accelerated efforts to educate area landowners about preserving Darlington's countryside last year when Philadelphia Electric Co. unveiled a proposal to develop a residential and recreational complex along the Susquehanna River, just east of the village.
No formal plans for the $40 million complex, targeted for 600 acres, have been introduced for county review yet, said county planners.
"We view that potential development as a threat," Hegeman said. "It's almost inevitable that it would spread toward Darlington."
Hegeman said he estimates that as much as 80 percent of the land around Uniontown in Carroll County is protected through various preservationprograms.
But that's not the case in the Darlington area, where Harford's agricultural zoning allows single-family houses on 10-acre lots.
Association members are concerned that Darlington could become like Manassas Battlefield in Virginia or Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, where suburban development threatens to erase the historic character of the areas, Hegeman said.
Michael A. Paone, of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said there are three Darlington area farms, totaling about 350 acres, now in preservation programs.
"It's starting to pick up there," Paone said. "We haven't had much interest until recently. . . . I think, all in all, (the association effort) is going to help."
County officials, meanwhile, also arelooking for ways to protect Harford's rural land from development.
At a series of meetings last month, the planning department asked citizens for suggestions on ways to protect farmland.
The county iswriting an agricultural land-use plan that might include new growth-management strategies, such as cluster development and transfer of development rights, once completed.
Harford has 138 farms on 18,000 acres in the county's agricultural preservation program, according tocounty statistics.
Darlington and Uniontown will join a number ofregions in Maryland already part of Maryland Environmental Trust's preservation effort, called the Rural Historic Village Protection Program.
Queenstown in Queen Anne's County, Barnesville near SugarloafMountain in Montgomery County and East New Market in Dorchester County are in the program, said Hegeman.
Possibly starting next month,members of the Deer Creek association will meet with community groups and individual property owners to discuss options for protecting land from development, Hegeman said.
The group also will meet with real estate agents and developers to outline their program, Hegeman said.
"We're trying not to be too anti-growth," Hegeman said. "Growth is inevitable. But we certainly believe it can be directed in a more appropriate way."