Deal protects Shore marshes

Trusts, owners arrange for conservation of nearly 1,000 acres

November 02, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Two state-funded land trusts have brokered a deal to preserve nearly 1,000 acres of marsh and woodland off Pocomoke Sound on the lower Eastern Shore, some of the southernmost land in Maryland.

The Maryland Environmental Trust and the Lower Shore Land Trust accepted a conservation easement from Ralph Partlow, a lawyer for Allfirst Bank in Baltimore, and Ned Gerber, an Eastern Shore conservationist and executive director of Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage.

Partlow and Gerber bought the land, five parcels roughly between Jenkins Creek and Ape Hole Creek for $60,000 from 16 property owners, then signed a conservation easement that protects the land from development and frees them from paying property taxes on it.

About 30 acres of the tract, the portion closest to Byrdtown, could be developed, but the rest is marsh and would be all but impossible to develop because of state restrictions.

"I don't know how `at risk' the property was," Partlow said, "but I can't tell the future, either. Now, there isn't any doubt about what will happen to the land."

The easement is the largest the Lower Shore Land Trust has acquired since its inception in 1990, Abigail Lambert, a project manager for the land trust, said yesterday.

The parcels are just south of Jersey Island, on the southern tip of Crisfield, where the Lower Shore trust has a conservation easement on a 300-acre tract, and part of a large system of tidal wetlands that includes Janes Island State Park and Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area.

Marshes are important to the health of the Chesapeake Bay because they filter sediment and pollution from water running off the land and help prevent erosion. These marshes -- Lawson Marsh and Ware Point Marsh -- drain to Pocomoke Sound as well as Tangier Sound and provide habitat for rare birds, such as the brown rail, and other animals.

State biologists say they have found a great blue heron rookery, egrets and ibises, and otters, raccoons and muskrats on the Partlow-Gerber lands and adjacent parcels.

The parcels include more than five miles of waterfront along creeks that meander through the marshes.

The Maryland Environmental Trust, which oversees and coordinates local land trusts, has been trying to obtain rights to the land since 1995, says John Bernstein, the director. It took four years because so many owners had to be located and negotiated with.

Partlow and Gerber, who was out of town and couldn't be reached, are friends and avid duck hunters. The land trusts sought out Gerber, who put them in touch with Partlow, and helped arrange the deal, Bernstein said.

The deal was settled in August, and the Lower Shore Land Trust made it public yesterday.

"We didn't go into [the purchase] with the idea of generating a tax loss," Partlow said. "But like the trust, we've gotten the benefit of knowing [the land] is going to be preserved."

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