State adds 300-acre farm to protected bay watershed

Purchase: Maryland moves to prevent development on three miles of shoreline and to protect the animals and plants of that region.

April 19, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

The state Board of Public Works approved a $7.2 million deal yesterday to preserve more than 300 acres of forests, marshes and farmland on the Chesapeake Bay just south of the Bay Bridge.

The purchase of Holly Beach Farm, financed mostly with federal money, prevents development on three miles of bay shoreline from the bridge to Whitehall Creek. It also protects a great blue heron rookery with two dozen nesting pairs, two bald eagle nests, migratory shorebird habitat, a deer herd and dozens of osprey.

"This is probably one of the most significant natural areas in the upper bay," said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "It's exceptional that there is a blue heron rookery and a bald eagle nest practically side by side. They don't often exist together, but they do here because it's all they've got."

Under the arrangement, the Virginia-based Conservation Fund will purchase the land, once part of the huge Revell Downs horse farm, from E. Stack and Leonie Lebrot Gately with $5.3 million in federal grants. Maryland will pay $1.9 million in Program Open Space funds for a permanent conservation easement. The Conservation Fund then will turn the land over to the bay foundation for an educational center.

The foundation, which now has access to a nearby pier on Whitehall Creek that it uses for education programs, plans to plant bay grasses in the waters around the peninsula, maintain forest buffers near the shoreline and continue farming about 20 percent of the land with "best management practices," Baker said.

The easement purchase is the latest move by the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening to preserve environmentally sensitive land within the bay's watershed, often with the help of the Conservation Fund. Fund lawyers helped negotiate or provide money for the purchase of Chesapeake Forest, 58,000 acres on the Eastern Shore, in 1999; easements on 3,300 acres of du Pont family farmland on the Eastern Shore in 1997; and easements on 2,500 acres on Chincoteague Bay last fall.

Fund chairman Patrick F. Noonan estimated the organization has helped preserve 150,000 acres in the bay watershed over the past 15 years.

"Maryland has become a national model," he said yesterday. "When we started 10 years ago, you looked to Maine, Vermont and Oregon. Now, Maryland is No.1."

Holly Beach Farm was among the 3,000 acres on the Broadneck Peninsula between the Severn and Magothy Rivers owned by the Labrot family, which once operated a thoroughbred farm and a racetrack - Revell Downs. The property also included what now is Sandy Point State Park.

The Conservation Fund, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have been negotiating with the Gatelys for the purchase for at least two years.

"My wife is thrilled to know that it will never be developed," Mr. Gately said in a telephone interview from South Carolina.

The land is one of the few large undeveloped waterfront tracts left in Anne Arundel County, said Jonathan McKnight, the Conservation Fund's program director. "And they're all endangered."

Although the Gately property is within the state's critical-area boundaries, it still could be developed with as many as 14 estate homes.

The land alternates between meadows and "pioneer" species of trees; the red cedars, black locusts, black cherries and pine trees that are the first to reappear after land has been cleared and then left fallow.

The property features thorny thickets near the ponds and coves that provide shelter for geese and other migrating shorebirds when the winds whip out of the north or west, as well as a freshwater pond in the southern end of the tract.

"If you look over there, you see the holly trees and the pines and nests, and you know it's going to stay that way," said Conservation Fund spokesman Jack Lynn, as he pointed across a pond.

"It's not going to be some trophy house in there, and for those of us who grew up around here, that means a lot," he said.

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