Ten years after acquiring the Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary, the county is ready to expand its 330-acre wildlife research and education center near Wayson's Corner.
Park officials are negotiating to purchase140 acres of shoreline, woods and meadow southeast of the sanctuary for $900,000, county park administrator Bill Rinehart said. Because of the shortage of public money to purchase new park land, the cost will be paid over four years.
"Having that 139-plus acres of forest and fields protected will be great news for the animals," whose habitats are shrinking as commercial and residential development checker the region, said Jug Bay supervisor Chris Swarth. "It's great news for the birds, otters, raccoons, beavers and foxes."
South County residents and conservationistsare scrambling to finance the purchase of an additional 600 acres offorests and former agricultural land a mile north of the sanctuary. After abandoning plans to mine the property, Genstar Stone Products Co. offered to sell to preservationists last year. So far, neither thestate nor a non-profit environmental agency has stepped forward.
Preserving the half mile of Jug Bay shoreline, interior creeks and the upland forest of the Spicknall property is "vital" to protecting the environmentally sensitive wetlands at Jug Bay, Rinehart said. Jug Bay was included in the federally protected Chesapeake Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserve last year.
Unlike the sanctuary, which is 70 percent wetland, the Spicknall property is mostly upland forest. About 20 acres are cultivated field and meadow.
Parks department officials already are making plans to use two barns and two houses on the property. One house will be leased to a tenant-caretaker, the other awarded annually to a college intern conducting research at the facility, Rinehart said.
The near mile-long shoreline will offer better access to Jug Bay and the river for canoe trips and other educational activities.
The county Department of Recreation and Parks had hoped to acquire the Spicknall property when the county acquired the sanctuary but the owners refused to sell, Rinehart said.
Then, last year, the owners, hoping to see the undisturbed land preserved, approached the county.
The purchase was again delayed last summer when state officials raided Program Open Space funds -- money collected from the real estate transfer tax -- to balance the budget.
"This is the first time in 10 years that that property has become availableand it would have to be a time when we don't have any money," said Tolly Peleuche, the parks department's chief of environmental programs.
The County Council will consider a bill Jan. 21 that would transfer $260,000 from the Agricultural Easement Acquisition fund to pay the first installment on the Spicknall property.