A Habitat For People -- And Wildlife

December 08, 1991|By Mary Medland | Mary Medland,Special to The Sun

When Foxleigh Enterprises' Ross Mackesey began plans for a residential development at Foxchase in Baltimore County, he didn't intend to include a wildlife sanctuary.

"I just wanted it to be a nice place to live," he says of the 22 lots on 50 acres near Reisterstown Road northwest of Baltimore.

But, because of his attention to the environment, the land has been certified as an urban wildlife sanctuary by the National Institute for Urban Wildlife. And it has been designated a Maryland Wild Acre by the Maryland Forest, Park and Wildlife Service.

"I believe that one can have responsible development while still having a marketable project," Mr. Mackesey says of the special environmental provisions, which cost about $75,000.

During the early stages of developing the former Donoho dairy farm, Foxleigh took some important steps to maintain and enhance the natural setting. For example, he planted 39 sweet gumtrees to shade the main road so that runoff water would be cooler for a nearby trout stream.

And later, when he realized the potential for creating a sanctuary, he took another crucial step, seeking the help of wildlife biologist Richard Pais of Daft McCune Walker Inc., a landscape architecture and environmental planning firm.

"Foxchase was easy," recalls Mr. Pais, who had just moved to Baltimore from Kentucky, where he had built wildlife sanctuaries while reclaiming strip-mine sites. "There were large lots, and about one-half the land was forest and the other one-half was field. The idea was to lay out houses and roads so there would be minimal disturbance to the wildlife."

As much as possible, significant trees were retained at Foxchase, including one that dated back to 1760.

To provide food, cover and water for the wildlife, Mr. Pais divided the land into upland woodland, wetland woodland, meadow and old field.

He provided the expertise to make the area inviting to animals. "Bluebirds and chickadees make their nests in the hollow cavities of dead trees," Mr. Pais said. "But many of the dead trees had been cleared away, so we had to create tree hollows."

Those nests were made by children at the Woodbourne Center, a home for troubled inner-city youths. The children also built -- to specifications -- boxes that provide daytime cover for bats.

Taking advantage of the open spaces at Foxchase, Mr. Pais planted wildflowers to attract hummingbirds and bees, as well as butterflies.

"Wildflowers are an easy alternative to lawns," he notes. "You only have to mow the wildflowers once a year and reseed every four or five years."

Tall, herbaceous plants were added to provide cover for rabbits. Unfortunately for the rabbits, though, foxes are expected, too. Already, deer visit the stream twice a day, in the morning and evening.

Brush piles will provide shelter for chipmunks and other small animals, including black snakes, water snakes, turtles, salamanders, frogs, toads, woodpeckers, vireos, thrashers, raccoons, owls, squirrels, opossums, mice and shrews.

Foxleigh took other pains with its development, using fences and bales of hay to control sediment runoff, for example. In addition, Foxchase has a 1 1/2 -mile nature trail.

"Whenever we needed help, we went to the Department of Natural Resources and Baltimore County environmentalists," Mr. Mackesey said. "They were generous with advice, and I really came to believe that most environmental bureaucrats are committed to helping the environment."

It paid off. The project won state and federal recognition for environmental excellence in 1990.

Lots at Foxchase cost $145,900 to $189,900. Three have been sold, and Mr. Mackesey expects that all will be sold by next fall.

The homeowners' association will take responsibility for maintaining the preserve.

Mr. Mackesey acknowledges that construction is intrusive but says environmental damage can be minimized. "Not all the houses will be built at once," he says. "Most animals will not be scared out by man: Pollution is a much greater threat."

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