WASHINGTON -- The House approved a measure yesterday that would allow for the expansion of the Assateague Island National Seashore in Worcester County.
The legislation, approved by voice vote, would allow the National Park Service to purchase 96 acres of the Elizabeth Woodcock estate, south of Route 611. The rest of the 320-acre farm is expected to be largely preserved through the purchase by an environmental trust.
Maryland lawmakers said the legislation was necessary to prevent commercial development of the property, owned by the late Mrs. Woodcock and located near the Verrazano Bridge, which connects Worcester County to the barrier island.
"The imminent possibility for development is tremendous," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, who introduced the bill. "Assateague is a vital natural resource and this addition will enable more people to enjoy the wonders it provides."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat who pushed a similar measure through the Senate last fall, agreed the legislation would help protect "the crown jewel" of the park service from encroaching development.
Roger Rector, superintendent of Assateague, said the park service would have to return to Congress to seek money to purchase the 96 acres.
Meanwhile, the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit land conservation group, will try to help the park service by buying the entire 320 acre parcel until the park service can acquire the 96 acres.
"It's still in a very, very preliminary stage," said Debi Osborne, director of the Trust's Chesapeake Lands Project.
The Trust would seek a buyer for the remaining 224 acres and try and limit development as much as possible, said Ms. Osborne.
Assateague Island National Park is a 37-mile-long barrier island park located on the Eastern Shore, 11 miles south of Ocean City. Assateague, which averages 2 million visitors each year, is famous for its wild ponies and is home to over 500 species of plants, many animals and more than 275 species of birds.