Development threatens fox hunting in Howard

October 25, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

It was September 1931. The country was mired in the Great Depression, Al Capone finally had been put behind bars, the Philadelphia Athletics were winning the American League pennant and the centuries-old sport of fox hunting was brought to the woodlands of western Howard County.

Sixty years later, the country again is in rough economic straits, but Capone has become mobster history, the Athletics have moved twice -- to Kansas City and Oakland -- and fox hunting is on the brink of extinction in western Howard as open space gives way to three-acre lots, roads and shops.

The county's changing landscape has put a crimp on "fox chasing," as enthusiasts call it, at the Hunt Properties near Glenelg, where a group of shareholders owns 80 acres of land at Triadelphia and Folly Quarter roads that was bought in 1931 for fox hunting.

But fox chasers cannot take off on horseback through open fields any more. Md. 32, other roads and subdivisions stand in the way. The hunt grounds now are used primarily to house about 75 foxhounds and a few horses.

"It's gotten so built up here that fox hunting is a thing of the past," said Asa Sharp, a former president who once held the title of master of the hounds of Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds, and is a shareholder in the spread of green rolling hills that house the club's headquarters.

Now, members of the club may be driven completely from the county because most of the Hunt Properties shareholders want to sell to a developer. The club owns only two shares in the property.

Shareholders voted overwhelmingly to sell the land for $1.6 million to Triangle Howard Corp., of Annapolis, at a meeting last Thursday.

The meeting, according to Sharp and others who attended, brought out bitter feelings among shareholders who favored the sale and club members who wanted to keep the land as headquarters for their fox hunting.

Club officials are debating whether to take shareholders to court or to attempt to negotiate a compromise.

Original shareholders of the land were fox hunters, but many of their children have inherited their shares over the years and have not been as enthusiastic about the sport, club members say.

In his fox-chasing days, which ended two years ago, Sharp would set out across hundreds of acres of land with 10 to 25 other riders and dozens of hounds to search for a fox. Hunters say the sport is about tracking the foxes and insist that they don't hurt the creatures.

"It's an exhilarating sport," said Sharp."Boy, when those hounds open up, it does things to you that you can't describe. Say you take them out, 50 to 75 hounds, and watch them work. It's beautiful!"

The property's board of directors sent a letter to shareholders Sept. 17 that recommended selling the land for the $1.6 million price. The letter said the sale was contingent on whether the developer would get approval to build houses there.

Chris Pippen, president of Triangle Howard, said he would not be able to build for at least two or three years and that he first would have to overcome opposition from a strong anti-growth movement and tough zoning laws.

Luke E. Terry, the club's president, said his members should be included in any decisions on the land because they always have maintained the property and paid taxes on it. Citing the 1931 prospectus, he said the original owners wanted fox hunting to remain in the area.

He added that the grounds also are used by the Howard County Pony Club, which he said includes about 60 young people ages 4 to 20 who participate in equestrian activities during the summer, and by other horse shows.

"If we had to move, it would be unlikely that we would have a property that we wouldn't have to pay a very large mortgage on," Terry said.

J. Thomas Scrivener, a club official, says that although last week's meeting was heated, shareholders and club members now are trying to work out their differences. He said he was optimistic that a compromise can be reached and that fox hunting will continue to have a Howard County base.

Gayle Libby Curtiss, also a club official, said fox chasing has become a tradition in the county.

"It's an outlet that allows one to get good exercise, be in the fresh air and enjoy nature," Curtiss said. "As they say, there's nothing better for the inside of man than the outside of a horse."

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