"THE Green Cathedral," Billy Moulden named this place years ago, after entering the unbroken square mile of forest and two miles of unspoiled Severn River shoreline less than 10 minutes from Annapolis.
The religious connotation would prove apt. In 1997, after years of dealing with multiple property owners and development threats, Moulden and other local environmentalists saw funds to protect this unique habitat slipping away once again.
Pray for the money, Moulden wrote in a desperate letter to the local clergy of three denominations.
After all, he recounts during a hike -- sun splashing through tall oaks and poplars onto dogwoods and redbuds that float through the forest -- nothing less was at stake here than "preserving the fingerprint of God on this river."
Enough money came through to preserve several hundred acres. In recent months a national group, the Trust for Public Land (TPL), fit the final piece in the Cathedral by brokering a $1.65 million easement on 300 acres where 50 homes were planned.
The trust, a nonprofit group that has protected more than a million acres nationwide, is becoming a valuable resource for the Chesapeake -- preserving 10,000 acres to date, with another 3,500 in the pipeline.
True to its slogan, "land for people," it is a counterpoint to groups like the Nature Conservancy that focus more on protecting plant and animal habitat. (In the interests of full disclosure, I occasionally free-lance articles for TPL's magazine, Land and People.)
TPL takes on tough projects in urban and suburban areas where land is expensive, sometimes contaminated, and ownership is complicated.
Around the bay, it also focuses on improving the woeful lack of public access to the waterfront. A prime example is Mallows Bay on the Potomac River, where the trust is negotiating to acquire a unique 500-acre site with state-park potential.
The embayment, 30 miles south of Washington, once held the region's last caviar fishery, where eggs from 10- to 12-foot Atlantic sturgeon were processed and shipped to urban markets.
Mallows also holds Maryland's "ghost fleet," derelict ships dating from the 1800s to the 1980s. They are leftovers from a lively ship dismantling industry that once boasted five floating brothels catering to workers.
The wrecks constitute "a historical and archaeological chronicle of unique and unparalleled importance," says underwater archaeologist Donald G. Shomette.
Debi Osborne, director of TPL's Chesapeake field office, says to reach the $1.5 million price for the Mallows property, the trust tapped federal transportation funds, based on the fact that a scenic highway borders the site.
Similarly, TPL found another underused "pot" of money for the Green Cathedral -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Legacy Fund, created to prevent the conversion of forestland to development.
Osborne says it's going to take all manner of resourcefulness to meet the new goal of the bay watershed states (Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania), protecting 20 percent of the bay's 64,000- square-mile watershed from development by 2010.
The challenge is admirably detailed in "Keeping Our Commitment," a report by TPL and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three watershed states.
The new goal commits the states to protecting an additional 1.1 million acres over the next decade, with an estimated price tag of $1.8 billion in new spending.
If it sounds ambitious, consider: This would barely bring open-space protection ahead of the current rate of losses to development -- about 128,000 acres a year across the watershed. Current open-space protection is about 50,000 acres a year.
A central point of the TPL-Bay Commission report is that the three watershed states have employed very different techniques to protect land -- and all have something to learn from one another.
At the state level, Maryland is a leader, spending $305 million from 1992 through 1997, compared with Pennsylvania's $138 million and Virginia's $23 million.
Virginia, the report says, needs to develop a permanent land-acquisition fund, like Pennsylvania's farm-preservation program or Maryland's Program Open Space.
It was the flexibility afforded by its Open Space funds that let Maryland jump on a rare opportunity in 1999 to acquire 58,000 acres of forestland. Virginia, offered an even bigger chunk of forestland, couldn't take advantage of it. Virginia's legislative leaders now are working hard to create a $50 million annual fund, though it is opposed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III. Virginia has been creative in protecting land through the private sector, setting up the Virginia Outdoor Fund, which facilitates donations and easements.
Maryland could do more at the county level, says Osborne: "Some [county governments] have programs, but many have gotten used to letting the state do it."
Besides getting smarter about using existing land-protection funds, the states must increase spending -- Florida has twice approved 10-year, $3 billion land measures, the report says.
Beyond that, political leaders need to make a case for the Chesapeake as a national concern, as Florida did in winning matching federal funds for the $7.8 billion Everglades restoration effort.
Copies of the report: Trust for Public Land, 666 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Suite 401, Washington, D.C. 20001; or Chesapeake Bay Commission, 60 West St., Suite 200, Annapolis, MD, 21401.