A rock cluster reaches out to the Patapsco River and affords the perfect fishing spot. (Photo by Phil Grout / June 1, 2013)

Area residents are invited to join members of a local environmental group and experts in conservation and related fields on Wednesday, June 12, to discuss the creation of a long-term sustainability and conservation plan for the Patapsco Valley.

The Patapsco Valley Heritage Greenway will host the meeting with the Urban Land Institute Technical Advisory Panel from noon to 6 p.m. at the United States Geological Facility at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 5522 Research Park Drive in Catonsville.

Topics are expected to range from how to receive state certification as a Maryland Heritage Area to development in and around Patapsco Valley State Park tohow to streamline conservation efforts.

"The quality of life for the area is dependent on this jewel of an asset that we have," Patapsco Heritage Greenway President John Slater said of the 16,043-acre state park, which encompasses portions of both Baltimore and Howard counties, features 170 miles of walking and biking trails and 32 miles of the Patapsco River.

In and around the park are many historical sites and properties that must be conserved, Slater said.

"With all the water wheels and the mills that were generating power (in the past), this was the high-tech corridor," Slater said. "We're trying to make sure that the historic properties are preserved and make sure the natural aspects of the valley are preserved.

"As properties become available for development or as developers start to say, 'We want to take this property and do such and such,' someone has to be looking out for the best interest of the whole valley."

One of the goals of the six-hour session is to create a report to be submitted to the state of Maryland for the area to become a certified heritage area.

"If you are approved for that program, you can apply for grants to help fund different efforts, whether it's access or signage or preservation," said Nate Tillman, a member of the panel. "It does open the door to maybe 100,000 bucks of revenue to help develop that (sustainability) plan. It gives you kind of a license to take the next step to improve the valley."

Tillman is CEO of Sustainable Growth and the author of "The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action." He has extensive experience putting together sustainability plans for both urban and suburban areas.

"Much of my work has been trying to balance these interests — social, environmental and economic interests — for profit and for nonprofit organizations," Tillman said. "I think I'm an objective voice and probably a knowledgeable voice on all of these issues."

Tillman will serve as facilitator for the panel. Members of the panel are environmental planner Aaron Keel, conservational organizational expert Roz Racanello, sustainability expert Ted Brown, financial expert B. Philip Hummelt, park planner Myra Brosius and private development industry expert Clarke Aburn.

Patapsco Heritage Greenway, which was founded 12 years ago, recently joined the Urban Land Institute to put together a panel whose members would work with each other and the public to create a concrete plan with the best interest of the valley in mind.

The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit research and education organization that was founded in 1936, according to its website. It provides leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

The park opened as Maryland's first state park, the Patapsco State Forest Reserve, in 1907 and expanded in 1913, according to an edition of The Argus from that year.

Tillman said it is imperative for the community to work with government agencies to preserve it.

"It's one of the oldest parks in the state and in the nation and it's had a variety of uses in the past," said the 63-year-old Columbia resident. "I think right now it's one of these great gems that is still left.

"I think the question is, how much access should we have to it?" he said. "How do we utilize it? How do we take care of it?

"It's going to be a real delicate process to come up with a way that we can enjoy the wonderful nature there without damaging it for the future," Tillman said.

The day after the discussion, the panel will present its preliminary findings at a second meeting from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on June 13 at the Robinson Nature Center, 6692 Cedar Lane, in Columbia.

"Everybody will be allowed to participate," Slater said. "We've proven our worth and we're ready to meet with everybody and continue forward and see if we're not the best organization for protecting the valley."

The group will adjourn for the summer to further study the results of Wednesday's meeting and to schedule another community meeting for sometime in the fall.