Danny and Barbara Bystrak's wooded land slopes to the marsh by Jug Bay and stretches 13 acres along Mallard Lane in Lothian. The Bystrakslike the land as it is and want it to stay this way forever.
Danny Bystrak sat at his old backyard picnic table a week ago reviewing the paperwork that could accomplish this through a conservation restriction. Behind him, the bay shone pearl gray through the stand of cherry, red oak, beech, tulip, sassafras.
"I just feel that people take and take all the time," said Bystrak, a soft-spoken man who works for the state Fish and Wildlife Service. "This is just our way of giving something back. When I die I'd like to know this is going to look pretty much the same for the next 10,000 years and not be a housing development or a shopping center."
Across from him sat Steven Seyfert, who works part time for the SouthCounty Conservation Trust. They were going over the deeds and the letters supporting the application for a conservation easement, which goes before the Maryland Environmental Trust board on Dec. 2. If Bystrak's application is approved by the MET board and the state Department of Public Works, it will be the first easement held by the South County Trust.
In June, the trust became the seventh such conservation organization in the county when it was awarded the federal non-profit status it needs hold deed restrictions -- restrictions that bar developers from the property. The owners keep their land, but lose the right to build on it or sell it for development. In exchange, they get breaks on federal income taxes and real estate taxes and, when the easement is held jointly by the MET, county property taxes.
The other six trusts together hold restrictions on 57 undeveloped acres in Anne Arundel County, part of the 36,420 acres held across the state by the MET.
Mary McHenry of West River, who helped to establish thesouth county group, said, "The older generation is very much for it,the people who know it as a way of life."
She was talking about the way of life south of South River, and especially south of Route 214, where fast-food restaurants, gas stations and shopping centers yield to farms, bayside villages, one-room post offices and general stores.
It's the way of life that the Bystraks were seeking when they moved to the southwest corner of Anne Arundel County from Laurel in 1986.
"Our reason for moving down here was to get away from the hustle-bustle," said Bystrak, walking the nearly half-mile that his property stretches down Mallard Lane, a dead-end, two-lane road. During a20-minute stroll down the middle of the road with Seyfert, not one car passed. Still, it's not quiet enough for Bystrak.
"The one realdisappointment here is the traffic," he said, picking empty beer cans up off the grassy roadside while passing a cluster of discarded Marlboro cigarette packs. "Obviously it's not overwhelming, but the factthat there's any at all is upsetting. Usually what happens is they're lost. They get to the end and turn around."
When he bought the property and started putting up his wood-shingled home, Bystrak said he had no doubt that he wanted to donate the land around the house to a conservation trust. At first, he was rebuffed by the MET because the property was too small to meet their minimum requirements: 50 acresfor upland, 20 to 25 for waterfront property.
Pam Bush, in chargeof special projects planning and supervision at MET, said the statewide trust cannot hold a lot of small properties because its staff of three has so much land to oversee. The trust inspects each piece of land every four years to ensure deed restrictions are honored.
The South County Conservation Trust sets a 10-acre minimum for upland property, five acres for waterfront, one acre for wetlands. It looks forproperty that has historical, archaeological or natural resources, such as habitat for a rare or endangered species, or an area through which rainwater flows to a ground water source. It also targets land adjacent to a park or wildlife sanctuary.
Bystrak's property neighbors state land at the shore of Jug Bay, just south of the Jug Bay Natural Area and across from the Patuxent River Park, a state park on the Prince George's side of the river. The state Natural Heritage Program has endorsed Bystrak's application, saying in a letter that an endangered plant species is believed to grow on the land and that the property is "important as upland buffer for the Upper Patuxent Marshes Natural Heritage Area." The agency also says the land is valuable as habitat for wildlife, particularly 18 species of rare forest birds that have been spotted on the property.
Bystrak has let the open fields just south of his house go to forest, and has planted an acre of loblolly pine. The trees that were there when he bought the place arestill young, about 50 to 60 years old. But give it time, Bystrak said.
"That's basically what I'd like to die knowing," said Bystrak, holding his arms out, "that this is going to be (filled with) trees 6feet in diameter."