Land Trust Aims To Save Sites From Development

December 01, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Soaring above wetlands and forests, bald eagles hunt for fish in a large lake near the Bush River in Perryman.

A group of eight Harford citizens fears such sites could vanish in the future. They worry that the area's woods and wetlands -- a haven for bald eagles, beavers,woodcocks, songbirds and other wildlife -- could one day be developed with houses.

To prevent that, the group has formed a non-profit organization, the Harford Land Trust Inc., with the goal of buying scenic sites threatened by development.

"Some of us feel that Harford County is developing at a very, very rapid pace," said Johnston N. Hegeman, president of the trust's board of directors. "We feel there are significant amounts of open land that are worthy of protecting."

The trust has put two sites -- the Perryman forest and another along Deer Creek in north Harford -- on its list for possible purchase and preservation.

The 50-acre Deer Creek site, for sale since last spring, is zoned for agricultural uses but could be developed with as many as five 10-acre lots. The Perryman site, which totals 125 acres, is part of asubdivision called Forest Greens that was partially developed 60 years ago but never completed.

The Deer Creek site has been appraisedat about $260,000 and the Perryman site is expected to cost at least$280,000, said Hegeman, who also is vice president of the Deer CreekWatershed Association.

To buy land, the trust hopes to raise money through grants, loans and donations, Hegeman said. The trust would hold the land until the state or county can purchase the properties and then use the proceeds to buy other tracts.

The Maryland Environmental Trust, a state agency that works to conserve natural areas, has awarded the trust a $5,000 grant, but the group must match the grant to get it, Hegeman said. The trust has received $20,000 in pledges so far.

Early last month, the trust mailed information packets to 500 county residents and organizations to attract members and money. Membership costs between $25 for one year for an individual or familyand $2,500 for a lifetime membership.

The county trust is part ofa nationwide trend of private organizations acquiring land that is eventually turned over to the community. More than 800 trusts have formed in the United States, protecting about 2 million acres of land, Hegeman said.

"In many areas, part of the answer is individuals participating in their own salvation," said Hegeman, who has been involved in county conservation efforts for about 10 years.

"You can do something on the local level," said Hegeman, a 67-year-old retired engineer who owns an 125-acre farm north of Churchville. "If enough people do that sort of thing, it starts snow-balling."

The trust has been welcomed by county administrators, who say the organization willbe able to act quickly and quietly to protect land from development.

A private group can acquire land without going through the publichearings and appraisals that the government must follow, said William Carroll, director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

Carroll added that he expects the trust to make up for the state and county preservation programs, which have been cut because of the state fiscal crisis.

"It's about time we've had an organization like this," he said. "I applaud their efforts."

In addition to Hegeman, the trust includes farmers Peter A. Jay of Churchville and H. Turney McKnight of White Hall. Jay

is former editor and publisher of Homestead Publishing Co. and McKnight is an attorney. Also in the group are Dori S. Bishop, a Street tax consultant; Mildred S. Kreider, a nursing professor from Churchville; Dr. Albert H. Owens, director of Johns Hopkins Hospital's oncology center; Lehman W. Spry, a Havre de Grace dentist and former councilman; and David P. Miller, a Darlington conservation consultant.

The Deer Creek site, owned by the family of the late Orson Stifler, is off U.S. 1., north of Hickory. Spanning both sides of the creek, the site is bordered by Palmer State Parkand a 109-acre tract owned by the Lower Susquehanna Conservancy.

Hegeman noted that the land would serve as a logical extension of thestate park. The site would further the state's plan to develop a "greenway" -- a string of linear parks and open space -- along Deer Creek. The state and county already own nine sites along Deer Creek.

The trust is also working with the Forest Greens Association, a group of about 100 Perryman homeowners, to acquire the Bush River site. Oneof the association's members has signed a purchase agreement with the site's owner, but the agreement expires in January, Hegeman said.

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