Md. parcels on parkland buy list

February 14, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer Staff writer Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

Conservation groups are urging federal officials to rapidly accelerate the purchase of parkland, wildlife habitat and historic properties nationwide, including several Maryland locales.

The Maryland parcels include acreage near Assateague Island, Antietam battlefield and a Kent County wildlife refuge.

"There is a growing realization that we need to invest in this nation's future to ensure its continued greatness," said George T. Frampton Jr., president of the Wilderness Society.

In a report released yesterday, the Society and 35 other organizations called for the purchase of acreage in 48 states, the District of Columbia and four United States territories. In all but a few cases, the report said, there is pressure to develop the land and owners are willing to sell.

But a spokesman for the Department of the Interior said the staggering federal deficit probably would prevent the purchase of as much property as environmentalists want.

And a Sharpsburg property rights activist criticized the premise of the report, saying "private land owners are better stewards of the land than the federal government is."

The Wilderness Society report recommended increasing annual spending under the Land and Water Conservation Fund from an average of $253 million annually to $1.26 billion -- a five-fold increase -- in next year's federal budget.

The report recommends that federal officials spend about $1 billion directly on land purchases and set aside another $200 million for the states, in the form of matching grants for recreation projects.

"The Park Service has an opportunity to buy a 96-acre parcel [near] Assateague to protect the view from the mainland across Sinepuxent Bay," said Don Hellmann, a Wilderness Society official. "If the government fails to act quickly, that land is expected to be subdivided."

The report said the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which raises more than 80 percent of its revenue from offshore oil drilling royalties, generates about $900 million a year in revenue. But only $253 million of that is used to purchase public land.

The rest, the report says, has accumulated in a $9 billion "surplus."

But Robert Walker, a spokesman for Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, said there is no surplus. Money not spent on parkland is used to pay for other government programs or obligations. "The Land and Water Conservation Fund is not money sitting in the bank," he said.

In one of his first speeches after taking office, Secretary Babbitt said he'd like to spend as much Land and Water Conservation Fund money as possible to buy new parklands. But he also said that the acquisition program would have to take a back seat to Clinton administration efforts to reduce the federal deficit.

Ann G. Corcoran of Sharpsburg, editor of the Land Rights Letter and a neighbor of Antietam Battlefield, called the Wilderness Society report a "publicity stunt," timed to come just before the White House presents Congress with its budget.

The government should be selling property, she said, not buying it.

"The federal government is unable to maintain the lands and the historic structures that it already owns at Antietam battlefield," she said. "The government cannot keep buying land that it does not have the resources to maintain."

MORE PARKLAND?

The Wilderness Society recommends that the federal government buy or help the state purchase as parkland 1,723 acres in Maryland worth an estimated $11.2 million. The parcels are:

* Frederick County

A 75-acre parcel along the Monocacy River at the Monocacy

National Battlefield. Price tag: $5.2 million.

* Kent County

About 900 acres along the boundary of the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, an important habitat for the endangered bald eagle and Delmarva fox squirrel. The property is threatened by forestry and development. Price tag: $1.5 million.

* Montgomery County

Six parcels totaling 82 acres scattered along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal near Washington, D.C. Price tag: $1.4 million.

* Prince George's County

About 200 acres, part of a proposed waterfront hiking and bicycling trail linking Fort Washington, Piscataway Creek, the National Colonial Farm and other scenic and historic locations along the Potomac River. Price tag: $1 million.

* Washington County

Four tracts, totaling about 370 acres, at the Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. Price tag: $1 million.

* Worcester County

A 96-acre parcel next to the Assateague Island National Seashore visitor's center, on the mainland, just across the Verrazano Bridge from the island. The property is now zoned for residential development. Price tag: $1.1 million.

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