Conservation groups fall short on money to buy Belt Woods $95,000 more is needed to add to state and local outlays for Bowie tract

December 31, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

The preservation of Belt Woods, one of Maryland's last scraps of ancient forest, will have to wait at least a few more weeks.

Conservation groups remain $95,000 short of the $500,000 they had pledged to raise by year's end toward the purchase of the Seton Belt Home Farm in Prince George's County.

The Trust for Public Land and the Western Shore Conservancy made a public appeal for donations last week, saying they hoped by today to come up with their share of the $4.65 million needed to buy the 515-acre tract.

"We haven't gotten it yet," said Debi L. Osborne, Chesapeake Bay regional director with the Trust for Public Land. However, she said the deal is not jeopardized by the shortfall, and other details need to be completed before the property can be purchased.

The land is owned by St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. W. Seton Belt, who died in 1959, left it to the church in his will.

The church had planned to sell the old farm near Bowie for a housing development. But conservation groups succeeded in stalling the project and ultimately persuaded the church to sell the property.

The Belt Woods, as the farm tract is known, is ecologically valuable because it has massive trees more than 200 years old and an especially diverse population of breeding songbirds, conservationists say.

Under the deal, the church-owned property is to be deeded to the state and combined with the adjoining 109-acre Belt Woods Natural Environmental Area. The state bought the core of the old farm tract from the church in 1984 to save one of the last stands of old-growth hardwood forest on the Atlantic coastal plain.

The 515 acres now being purchased would be preserved as a buffer for the woods from encroaching development. Gov. Parris N. Glendening plans to seek legislative designation of the entire 624 acres as a wildland, a state wilderness area where vehicles are forbidden.

The Trust for Public Land signed a contract with the church in late November, formalizing an agreement in principle announced last summer.

At that time, state and local governments agreed to put up $4 million, with conservation groups raising the remaining $500,000.

When final negotiations with the church boosted the agreed-on price by $150,000, the state made up the difference. The price rose because of "minor" adjustments in the property's appraisal, said Grant DeHart, director of Program Open Space for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Despite having pledged to raise the money nearly six months ago, conservation groups were delayed in their efforts to get donations from foundations until the contract with the church was final last month, Osborne said.

A total of $405,000 has been raised so far, with the largest individual gifts a $250,000 pledge from The Nature Conservancy and $75,000 promised from the Abell Foundation.

Anyone interested in contributing can telephone the trust's office in Washington at (202) 543-7552, or the Western Shore Conservancy at (301) 390-0797. The conservancy's address is 2808 Church Road, Bowie 20721.

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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