Farm preserve doubles in size

Conservancy can expand programs

July 15, 1999|By Zanto Peabody | Zanto Peabody,SUN STAFF

A new lease agreement with the state doubles the size of the preservation area of Mount Pleasant Farm in Woodstock, enabling the Howard County Conservancy to expand its educational programs and conservation efforts.

HCC takes under its care 105 acres from the state Department of Natural Resources under a lease agreement confirmed last week, expanding HCC's portion of Mount Pleasant, formerly known as Brown Farm, to 192 acres. The county Department of Recreation and Parks owns another 45 acres.

"Having the formalized agreement, we still have to work with the state," said Elizabeth Stoffel, the conservancy director, "but it allows us to have greater input in management of [the land]."

Already this summer, about 200 volunteers have planted 10,000 hardwood trees on both sections of the property near Old Frederick and Woodstock roads. The additional forest, Stoffel said, will create a welcoming habitat for wildlife and protect the farm's streams from murky runoff water.

For the past five years, the conservancy has maintained a loose agreement with DNR. The conservancy would maintain the fields on the state's side of the property, and the DNR would allow the conservancy to extend its trails and educational field trips onto the state's portion of the land.

"The new lease will not add to the cost of maintaining the new portion," Stoffel said. "We have maintained the grasslands for some years now."

Maintenance costs aside, money was central to the decision for HCC to take over stewardship of the land. As a nonprofit agency, the conservancy can apply for grants the DNR could not.

For example, volunteers are setting up a perimeter to protect a field from deer that destroy quail and pheasant habitat, a project funded by a federal Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program grant. And an AmeriCorps grant will pay for a new coordinator of volunteers.

"[Conservancy volunteers] can create and execute a plan to restore the wetlands and make the habitat better for wildlife by planting trees and removing invasive plants," Stoffel said.

The conservancy is taking on the task of improving the ecology of the forested DNR lands without disturbing the natural appearance.

A 300-year-old farmhouse, smokehouse and smith shop, clear-running creeks, lilac bushes and table herb patches define the landscape of 87 acres donated to the conservancy in 1992.

The new property taken in by the conservancy features grass fields abutted by pristine woods. The conservancy will not build anything on the DNR's acreage, Stoffel said, except for a foot bridge across a creek.

"More than anything, [expanding] gives us the opportunity to expand our premier educational site," Stoffel said. "We are very interested in preserving land throughout our county and teaching others how to preserve it."

While on an educational tour of the farm last week, a group of Baltimore County preschool students played a game of "Who Polluted the Patapsco?" Each of the children simulated dumping small, colored bits of pollutants such as oil and plastic into a container of clear water. As the water became cloudy, the students in unison answered, "We did."

The East Branch Stream starts along the conservancy's nature trail at Mount Pleasant and winds its way into the Patapsco River. Its waters eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay. It runs clear, like the water at the beginning of the children's game.

The cloudy Davis Branch Stream starts west of the farm and flows through the newly annexed section. As part of the conservancy's program, volunteers will plant more trees and wild grasses upstream of the creek to help make it as clear as the East Branch.

The Howard County Conservancy is seeking volunteers who want to learn more about land preservation and wildlife habitat. Information or to volunteer: Elizabeth Stoffel at 410-465-8877.

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