Hanging on to family farm

Dispute: A family's land relationship with Howard schools sours as the county asks for more and the clan regrets its earlier efforts to help.

June 02, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Mae B. Musgrove was pleased after she and her late husband, Raymond, sold Howard County the land to build Glenelg High school nearly 50 years ago - but no more.

The 90-year-old retired teacher's pleasure turned to resentment over the years, after the county came back twice for more land - in the 1960s for athletic fields and in the 1970s for a septic field. Now, county school officials want another 20 acres for an expanded septic field to serve a planned 400-seat addition to the school, but Musgrove and her family have had enough. This month, they refused even to allow the county to test the land.

"It's like opening the door to a monster," said Musgrove's daughter, Ellen M. Durigg.

"Initially, I was proud of the school. It was nice and convenient over the years," Musgrove said Tuesday at her 97-year-old farmhouse behind the school.

Her two younger daughters attended Glenelg instead of trekking miles to Howard High, as her eldest, Ellen, had to.

When she was a high school girl, Durigg said, there was only one other house visible from the Musgrove farm. The Milky Way was so clear at night it looked "like you could reach out and touch" the stars. Now, expensive, new homes dot 3-acre lots, and the high school parking lot is easily within view.

"I am very sorry now," Musgrove said about that first decision to sell. "I've given enough," she said.

Durigg said the county has 40 acres of her family land but won't get any more.

"We've been used as their [school officials'] first-aid kit too often," Durigg said.

If the family loses the additional 20 acres, the school's new septic field will divide the farm into two pieces, eradicating the crops of soybeans, corn and wheat that grow there. Musgrove, Durigg and Durigg's husband, Walter, vow to fight to preserve it as one tract to protect its value.

"Our attorney likes to go to court," Durigg said. The family has a tactical advantage this time, she said, because a court battle could take years and the county is in a hurry to build the addition.

The school board's goal is to make all county high schools large enough for at least 1,400 students, in preparation for an enrollment bulge making its way toward the upper grades.

The Glenelg addition is likely to be a year behind schedule. Last fall, school officials proposed solving the problem by building a small wastewater treatment plant near TriadelphiaRidge Elementary, several miles from the high school.

The idea was to treat the water and put the clean discharge into a farm stream. Solid wastes would be trucked to the county's treatment plant in Savage. A similar 36,000-gallon-a-day plant at Glenelg would empty into a tributary of Triadelphia Reservoir, and school officials worry Washington-area utility officials might oppose that.

Triadelphia-area residents oppose the idea of a plant near them, fearing odors, well-water pollution and lowered property values. They mounted a furious campaign against it, leaving the school board with no attractive choices.

"From our point of view, we're kind of stuck," said William J. Brown, director of school planning and construction. "The Musgroves did sell us the original land. I understand they want to stay on the land." The board must now decide what to do.

Ellen Durigg said the situation keeps her anger at a slow boil.

Suburbanites, she said, "come to rural Howard County and they don't like our [farm] smells." They pollute the atmosphere with fireplace smoke and auto exhaust, play loud music and clog the roads "and they run out here screaming `Not in my back yard,' If my father and mother had said `Not in my back yard,' there would have been no Glenelg High school," she said.

In addition, the women said they worry about what an expanded septic field would do to their own well and those of their neighbors.

"I'm having a terrible time with taking highly productive farmland and putting the opposite end of human experience under it," Durigg said.

The county should build a high school on part of the nearly 200-acre Western Regional Park in nearby Glenwood and convert Glenelg to a middle school, the women suggested. Barring that, it should build a small treatment plant on the high school's grounds. If it's run right, it shouldn't pollute anything, they said.

The extended Musgrove family, including Durigg's two younger sisters and their families, has formed the Maple Spring Farm Limited Partnership to steward their land, and Walter Durigg told the school board the family has in hand a development offer worth more than $1 million that would also allow Musgrove to continue living in her white frame house as long as she wants to.

She still tends to her vegetable garden, and she's eyeing the reddening cherries on a tree behind the old barn, despite Durigg's warnings not to climb any ladders. Musgrove proudly showed a snapshot she took years ago of her mother, up on a chair adjusting curtains at age 98.

She loves the rural life, she said, but is a realist.

She expects farming to vanish from the area soon. "Maybe before I'm gone."

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