Celebrating acquisition of watershed parcels

460 acres to be protected near Magothy River

Anne Arundel

July 30, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Her land has received a lot of attention, but Beverly Looper has avoided it.

Yesterday the longtime Pasadena resident stepped briefly into the spotlight as county and state officials gathered to mark the acquisition of 460 acres in the Magothy River watershed - 390 of them owned by Looper until last month. The county bought her land for nearly $5 million and placed most of it under a permanent conservation easement.

The purchase ended four years of delicate negotiations with the Looper family, and preserves one of the last large pieces of open space between Baltimore and Annapolis. The land is the centerpiece of a proposed Magothy River Greenway to protect environmentally sensitive areas on the Pasadena peninsula.

Friends cajoled the notoriously private Looper into making an appearance at yesterday's ceremony, attended by county and state officials, environmentalists and politicians.

"I'm pleasantly surprised that Mrs. Looper came out today," Del. Joan Cadden said at the event, held on a portion of the Looper property that has been used as community ball fields for decades.

"She could have sold this property for a lot more money, and she chose to keep the property pristine because she knew the problems that growth would cause on this peninsula," said Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat who played a leading role in securing funding for the property.

Seated next to County Executive Janet S. Owens, Looper listened to a succession of speakers praise her decision to preserve the land that she treasures as a haven for wildlife.

"[The animals] have to have a place to go. The people have enough," Looper said after the event.

The Maryland Environmental Trust and the Magothy River Land Trust will hold a conservation easement on 370 acres of the Looper property, permanently protecting it from development. The abundant forested areas will be preserved, and existing trails will be maintained for hiking and horseback riding. The land also contains several rare bog ecosystems discovered there during the past three years.

The remaining 20 acres contain community ball fields developed by Looper's husband, Edward Looper, who died in 1975. The fields have been maintained by the Lake Shore Athletic Association, but will be turned over to the county Department of Recreation and Parks for maintenance and upgrades.

"This means that the idea of the greenway can be a reality to have a corridor for wildlife and for the public to use," said Sally Hornor, executive administrator of the Magothy River Land Trust.

Hornor recalled accompanying Looper on a tour of her property: "She's 5 feet tall, slight of build, and yet she just crashed through that greenbrier like a kid," Hornor said. "So you could sense that she spent a lot of time doing that."

Targeted in 1998

The county also announced yesterday the acquisition of a second property on the upper reaches of the Magothy River. Called Beachwood Park, the 71-acre forested area was formerly an amusement park and includes a strip of waterfront, one-third of a mile long, along the Magothy River. The county paid $1.2 million for the land with state Program Open Space and county money, and will maintain the property for hiking, fishing and nature study.

The Magothy River Land Trust first conceived the idea of a greenway, and the organization targeted the Looper property in 1998 as an essential component of the plan. But the trust had to act quickly because the Looper land was under contract to a housing developer.

Trust President Melvin Bender contacted the Trust for Public Land - a national nonprofit organization that works with communities to preserve land threatened by development - and asked for help. The organization agreed to assist in acquiring the property, and Julie Enger of the Trust for Public Land's Baltimore office assumed the role of project manager.

The Trust for Public Land entered into an option agreement with Looper in April 2000 to buy 390 acres of her property. The next step was to put together the financing.

It took another two years to devise a package that included $2.3 million in federal transportation money, about an equal amount in state Open Space money and the remainder in county funds for the 20 acres of ball fields. Looper retains ownership of an additional 200 acres.

`Thankful it happened'

"If your landowner doesn't have a land ethic, these projects are next to impossible to do," Enger said. "Mrs. Looper was a classic, classic case of someone making the assumption that the only way they can make any money from the property is to sell it for development."

Looper's contract with a developer was delayed and eventually terminated after concerns were raised about the traffic impact on congested Mountain Road.

"Mrs. Looper often says she's so thankful it happened," Enger said. "She did not want to have to go through with development. She does love the land, she loves the animals, and she really wanted to see the land remain as it is."

Money not critical

The family of Edward Looper bought the Pasadena property in the 1930s, and Beverly Looper still lives in an old stone house there. She is a founding member of the Magothy River Land Trust, created 14 years ago, and serves on its board.

"The money never really was the driving force for her," Enger said. "What's great is that she will be able to do some work on her house, but her life outwardly has not changed and it won't. I'm sure she'll still drive her 1987 Toyota, and kind of keep to her sensible roots."

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