Land trust gets control over Ritchie Highway land for `habitat oasis'

Grasonville couple's gift allows the preservation of hardwood forest, wetlands

September 29, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Grasonville couple has given the Magothy River Land Trust control over a wooded lot near Ritchie Highway that the conservation group considers an oasis in a suburban setting.

The sloped 4.7 acres is at the headwaters of Buckingham Cove, an inlet on the east side of the highway on the Severna Park-Arnold line. Its century-old hardwood forest and wetlands are home to deer, raccoons, birds and bats.

The land trust, which was given a conservation easement for the site through a small foundation which owns the land, hopes to improve the habitat for wildlife, stem erosion, build blinds and other observation sites with a goal of opening the property to the public, perhaps as early as next spring.

"Once we get this work done on it, it will be a bit of habitat oasis for wildlife as well as for the public, for education, to show children what a mature forested area looks like," said Sally Hornor, executive coordinator of the land trust and ecology professor at Anne Arundel Community College. "They can see what it used to look like around here before we paved the area."

The site is ecologically significant because, as water from the highway and homes drains into it, it goes into Dividing Creek and the Magothy River. With steep slopes and wetlands, much of the land is unsuitable for development.

Thomas and Patricia Stoddard, who formerly lived at Hickory Point on the Magothy River, bought the land in the mid-1970s.

At one time, they dreamed of building a house amid the mature trees, but never got past admiring the beauty of their small forest a stone's throw from a bustling highway.

"You can go back there and stand in the center of it and you can't hear a thing from Ritchie Highway," Thomas Stoddard said.

The couple moved to Grasonville, but wondered what they would do with their forest.

"We lived on the Magothy for, oh, 25 years or more," said Stoddard, who recalled sailing, fishing and swimming in the river. "We just felt like it was the right thing to do - the river has given us a lot, and we felt like we wanted to give something back."

Under the agreement with the Stoddards, the land is owned by the Biophilia Foundation, a tiny foundation formed in November by a group of friends, led by Richard Pritzlaff of Arnold.

The foundation gave a conservation easement to the Magothy River Land Trust in perpetuity, which precludes development of the land.

The land trust, about eight years old, hopes to have about 50 acres in conservation easements soon. The trust holds easements on about 25 acres.

The goal of preservationists is to create a "greenway" along the Magothy River using a combination of easements and land purchases and public parks.

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