A county park in western Anne Arundel County is a great idea -- but not smack in the middle of 8,100 acres of wildlife refuge at Fort Meade. This is one of the last large, undisturbed old forests on the East Coast, the closest thing we have to a national park. Expose it to development, and you endanger a habitat that nurtures wildlife for an entire region.
County Executive Robert R. Neall has had his eye on the Fort Meade land ever since the federal government declared it surplus two years ago, transferring it from the Army to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. To meet recreational demands in the county's fastest-growing area, he wants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of which the center is a part, to let him use 500 acres for a regional park. He promises a modest facility with trails, picnicking and ball fields. Ever conscious of a dollar, Mr. Neall sees a golden opportunity to avoid rising land costs and get a prime piece of land for next to nothing.
At first, the idea seemed sensible. But there's far more to be considered here than the bottom line. What price do you put on a place where, in the midst of one of the great metropolitan corridors, bald eagles still nest and black bear can be found playing with their cubs? What price for a place that is home to red fox, bobcat, deer, 106 species of birds and several endangered plants?