Pascal said that in addition to opening the property for some group hunting and fishing and visits by school groups, he's adapting one of the homes for disabled access, so it could be used by wounded veterans and their families for weekend outings.
"This isn't wide open public access … like a state park," Griffin said. But he said this is the first easement given the state that includes even limited public access. Typically, private landowners give up development rights in return for a tax break, but their property remains private and off limits to the public.
The natural resources secretary said he hopes that eventually, Pascal might give or bequeath the parcel to the state outright. In the meantime, Griffin said, "It's very commendable for him to do this."
Robert J. Etgen, director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, said he was delighted that Pascal had donated the farm's development rights to the state.
Though unwilling to speculate how big a tax break Pascal might receive, Etgen noted that one particularly generous provision is to expire at the end of this year. It grants easement donors a deduction worth as much as 50 percent of their adjusted gross income, he said, which can be spread over a 15-year period.
Etgen said the deal state officials struck allowing limited public access on private land might be a good preservation model for the state, which has seen its funds for buying parkland dwindle in the slumping economy. Program Open Space gets an earmarked portion of real estate transfer taxes, but with property sales down, revenue has declined. The land acquired by the state has fallen from nearly 15,000 acres in fiscal year 2009 to about 5,000 in each of the past two years. So far this fiscal year, the state has bought just 1,900 acres.
"We've been involved with this property for a long time," Etgen said, "so we're just tickled to see it getting preserved now."
Pascal said he's looking forward to having schoolchildren come down and use the property.
"This is my bucket list," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.