Benefactor preserves 'rare' natural habitat $225,000 purchase spares Balto. Co. site from proposed houses

September 17, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

A thick canopy of shade from centuries-old trees, and colorful wild berries, frogs and foxes occupy a stunning habitat just off Falls Road in Ruxton -- now preserved forever by a local benefactor.

The 18-acre strip near Robert E. Lee Park was spared the development of three homes after a Baltimore County woman, )) who wants to remain anonymous, bought the property in May for $225,000 and donated it to the Maryland Environmental Trust. The trust immediately froze the parcel's beautiful legacy of nature with an easement.

"It was the right thing to do," said Stephen Smith, a Baltimore County real estate developer who helped to broker the deal. "It just made sense. Not all property needs to be developed."

With most of the Ruxton and Riderwood communities developed, Smith and local officials believe the property was the largest parcel in the area to change hands in recent years.

And John C. Bernstein, executive director of the environmental trust, said the property could get another set of owners by year's end.

The trust, a state conservation agency that seeks donations of easements to thwart development, intends to deed the Ruxton property to local environmentalists and possibly neighbors of Robert E. Lee Park, who would oversee the parcel.

"That land is just very rare," Bernstein said. "We've got thousands of acres in Talbot and Dorchester counties, but we don't have a lot inside the Beltway. We'd like to protect land closer to urban areas."

The property, known in county land records as "Ruxton Hills," holds the remains of a historic railroad that once rolled through the mill towns of northern Baltimore. What's left of the tracks forms a secluded hiking trail that many nature lovers learn of only by word of mouth.

"It's a state trail now -- the public has been using it, but they can now use it legally," Bernstein said.

According to state assessment records, the land was purchased in 1977 by D. Richard Rothman, who lives on Indian Head Road, a small development on the rim of Robert E. Lee Park.

Rothman said he bought the property because he wanted to preserve its pristine environment -- and his property value.

Robert E. Lee Park, a city-owned space located in the county that includes Lake Roland, was established in 1945. It was created in the will of a wealthy Baltimore resident, Elizabeth B. Garrett White, who stated that her plush Mount Vernon Place home be sold and the proceeds go toward a park memorial to Lee.

This spring, environmentalists from the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit group in Chevy Chase, studied the park and the Ruxton Hills property and found the area to be an enhanced natural habitat rich with a dry, prairie-like grassland and surrounded by forests, said Patricia Walsh, a conservancy spokeswoman.

Jim Smith, who lives near the Lee park, said Rothman had planned to build three houses on his land, but abandoned those plans and placed the parcel up for sale. That's when the private benefactor bought Ruxton Hills and deeded it to the environmental trust.

"It's been preserved as is," Rothman said last week. "I'm certainly happy about that."

Smith, whose brother, Steve, helped broker the sale, agreed with his neighbor.

"The neighborhood was very concerned about the impact it would have environmentally if developed," he said.

"It's filled with deer and fox, there [is a] lot of wildlife there. It has environmental impact and aesthetic impact. It's a wonderful thing to have it tied up once and for all."

Another resident, Ellen Kelly, says she once spotted a wild turkey strutting out of Ruxton Hills. Such a rare sighting so close to the city-county line reinforced her desire to preserve the parcel.

"I walked through part of that trail the other day and was astounded -- the trees are some of the oldest, most mature trees I've ever seen around here," said Kelly, a member of the environmental trust board. "I saw eight little frogs, all different varieties. This is just exactly what we should be saving."

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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