4-year-old trust racks up acreage

January 29, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

David Miller, director of the Harford Land Trust, is walking along Deer Creek north of Bel Air, fretting about fund raising to preserve the remnants of Harford County's undisturbed land.

He stops to admire one of the fruits of his labors: a twisted beech tree that stretches over the rushing creek, one of Maryland's seven designated scenic streams. "It really has a lot of character," he says of the old tree.

It is a lovely tree, in a lovely place. Thanks to the Harford Land Trust, it will stay that way.

Under Mr. Miller, the 4-year-old private trust has become known as one of the most effective local land preservation groups in Maryland. The group evolved from efforts to protect the heavily forested Deer Creek corridor from development. Mr. Miller and some conservation-minded Harford landowners realized that development threatened many important natural lands throughout the county.

The 34-acre Deer Creek tract, just east of U.S. 1, is one of several recent acquisitions by the trust. "The sellers wanted to conserve it, but they also wanted to sell it," Mr. Miller says.

After a highly successful fund-raising campaign two years ago to help the state buy land around Maryland's second-highest waterfall, near Pylesville, the land trust recently completed the transfer of the 102-acre Forest Greens Lake Preserve in Perryman to county government. Residents near the Forest Greens tract wanted the land to remain free from development and open to the public.

Last month, the trust accepted a 104-acre forested wetland along Willoughby Beach Road in Edgewood as a gift from a development company. Preserving such land along the Bush River for public access and use is important, Mr. Miller says, because nearly all other shoreline tracts along the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries in Harford are owned by the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground -- and, thus, are inaccessible to the public -- or are already developed.

The development company, Otter Creek Limited Liability Co., gets a tax deduction for giving land appraised at $220,000 that could not be developed anyway. And the trust has preserved what is considered the largest intact Coastal Plain woodland in Harford and an important habitat for amphibians, birds and other wildlife.

Mr. Miller's group, one of 40 local land trusts in Maryland, has so far helped preserve about 450 acres through purchases, easements and by accepting gifts. Among the 40, the Harford trust ranks sixth in acreage preserved, according to a survey in November.

Other local trusts in Maryland, such as the Howard County Conservancy, also have formed to help preserve land in entire counties. Some larger groups, such as the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, focus on broader regions of the state. And some, such as Save Historic Antietam Foundation, have a narrower focus.

"The private land trusts in Maryland are doing a lot of acquisitions that benefit the state," Mr. Miller says. "We can do it faster and less expensively."

In October, the Harford trust bought the Deer Creek tract near U.S. 1 for $150,000. It used a 90-day, interest-free loan from the Abell Foundation and an interest-bearing bank loan.

The state Department of Natural Resources wants to buy the tract from the trust and add it to the adjacent Palmer State Park. The state Department of General Services, which must approve the sale, so far is willing to pay $100,000 for it, even though two appraisals have come in well above the asking price, Mr. Miller says.

But despite that potential difficulty and the ever-increasing competition for land, Mr. Miller says, "We're just going to keep doing what we're doing. "

Because there is less county and state government money available these days to buy natural lands -- and because the often-difficult process of negotiating purchases requires time and expertise -- groups such as the Harford Land Trust are important.

"If they were not doing this, who else would?" says Theresa M. Pierno, a former County Council member who advocated conservation of Harford's forestland and attempted to control urban sprawl. The trust has "been able to achieve a tremendous amount of success without a lot of fanfare and without a lot of dissension."

"A lot of the credit goes to David Miller," says Mrs. Pierno, who recently served on a 50-member committee that was formed to recommend environmental policies for Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration.

But Mr. Miller, a 58-year-old former private school teacher who began his career in conservation more than 20 years ago, says he has had a lot of help.

He credits an energetic group of volunteers who form the trust's board of directors.

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