State to spend $6.3 million to buy tract along Potomac

GreenPrint program to conserve 1,271 acres in Charles County

September 25, 2001|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

A pristine Potomac River-front haven for eagles, songbirds and rare butterflies will be preserved by the state under its GreenPrint land conservation program instead of becoming a gravel mine, state officials say.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is scheduled to announce this morning that Maryland will spend $6.3 million to buy and preserve a 1,271-acre Charles County tract along the river at Douglas Point, about a mile from the tiny town of Nanjemoy.

The land, now owned by Washington-based Potomac Electric Power Co., is considered some of the finest wildlife habitat in the state.

"The real beneficiaries are the people of the Chesapeake Bay region," said Patrick F. Noonan, chairman of The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit group that acted as an intermediary in the sale. "This land is crucial for water-quality protection and wildlife habitat."

"Any time you are able to buy two miles of frontage on the nation's river, it's pretty damn exciting," Noonan said.

Noonan and Glendening spokesman Michael E. Morrill said the purchase has the backing of Charles County officials, who asked the state to intervene last year when a Florida sand- and gravel-mining company took out an option on the land and sought permission to mine it.

After county officials denied the mining permit, the state and The Conservation Fund began negotiating to protect the land permanently.

The deal is the second purchase under the state's new GreenPrint program, which is intended to create a web of conservation lands connected to one another across Maryland. Last month, the state paid $4.3 million to buy 615 acres at nearby Jug Bay in southern Anne Arundel County.

"We are acting with a sense of urgency all across the state to save our most ecologically valuable lands before they are lost forever to development," Glendening said in a prepared statement yesterday.

The PEPCO tract is covered with mature forests of oak, hickory, tulip poplar, black walnut and chestnut trees.

Pine forests hold the highest ground, interspersed with blueberry thickets, glades of ferns, and about 100 acres of marshy lowlands.

It is a nesting area for bald eagles and ospreys and a resting spot for songbirds as they migrate south to the tropics each fall and return in spring.

A rare butterfly, the Carolina satyr, shares the land with a variety of rare plants.

The tract and a 510-acre farm just north of it are rich in archaeological and historic sites, including evidence of Native American habitation, some Civil War sites and a 19th-century ships' graveyard of about 100 vessels, said Depart- ment of Natural Resources spokesman John Surrick.

"It's an awesome piece of property," Surrick said.

The state, the county, The Conservation Fund and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns vast tracts of land west of the Mississippi, are working together to preserve other parts of Douglas Point.

The 5,500-acre swath of forests, wetlands, and farm fields is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in Maryland. At the behest of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the federal agency has set aside $3 million to purchase land in the area.

"We hope that this will be the first of several purchases in the Douglas Point area," Noonan said.

The deal brings the total amount of Maryland land set aside for permanent conservation to more than 940,000 acres, nearly one-sixth of the state's total area.

Most important, said Noonan, the state is conserving land along rivers and streams that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, thus helping to protect it from future pollution.

"Give tremendous credit to Governor Glendening for creating the GreenPrint program, which is a model for the nation," Noonan said.

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