Satyr Hill Farm: evergreen

January 28, 1993

The view from Cromwell Bridge Road reveals Satyr Hill Farm in Baltimore County's Cromwell Valley to be a great, green basin. From the northern shoulder of the busy two-lane blacktop, the farm begins with a gentle descent toward Minebank Run, the stream that cuts the land into two roughly equal-sized rectangles. On the stream's opposite side, the basin climbs a slightly steeper angle to a fir-covered ridge. All's as still as a tableau by a master landscape painter, except for the two horses nibbling grass along the stream bank and the blackbirds in flight forming a dark line against the backdrop of the evergreens.

By any standard, this would be a magnificent vista. But it's all the more breath-taking -- and the farm itself all the more precious -- for being just a few miles outside populous Towson.

The Merrick family, the owners of the 220-acre property, have long wanted to ensure the land's preservation by selling it to the state and the county. The two governments were ready to split the $3.7 million price. Funds from the state's Open Space program were earmarked for the purchase.

However, when the economy soured, the program was drained of $117 million to balance the state budget. Bond money would have to be used to buy threatened properties. Such bonds were, in fact, available for the Satyr Hill Farm purchase, but the three-member state Board of Public Works blocked the deal for political reasons: Gov. William Donald Schaefer, one of the board members, was getting his revenge on Baltimore County legislators who had opposed state tax hikes passed last April.

While the politicians fiddled, local community groups and environmental activists burned over the potential loss of the farm to developers. But last Monday, after weeks of friendly persuasion by Rep. Helen Bentley, County Executive Roger Hayden, county legislators and other officials, the governor announced he now favors the public purchase of Satyr Hill Farm with state bonds.

Mr. Schaefer reportedly was set to approve the purchase even before he visited the farm this week. He liked the county's plans to turn it into a self-sustaining enterprise, to include farmhouses that could be used for everything from corporate meetings to weddings; an agricultural laboratory where farmers could come to study ecology-friendly techniques; and a recreational area with trails where citizens could hike, bike and observe nature.

If anything really clinched the deal for the governor, though, it apparently was his first-hand look at the place. With all respect to the officials who talked Mr. Schaefer into the purchase, their thousand (or so) words just couldn't compete with one picture of all that green splendor.

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