The first party to make an application is the first in line to be considered, Richardson said, and the state is neither required nor permitted to seek competing bids.

Chase said it was something of a fluke that the Boy Scouts discovered that the land is not theirs.

Chase said the Boy Scouts have acquired property for the Broad Creek campground over the past 65 to 70 years through purchases and gifts, and intended to put most of it into a series of land trusts to preserve it in its natural state.

Several years ago, he said, they put about 870 acres in land trusts, including a 60-acre parcel with Harford County and the bulk of the land with the U.S. Forestry Department. Then the Boy Scouts began the process of putting another 800 acres in a trust.

To put land in a trust, he said, a party must demonstrate ownership. After surveying the second 800 acres, he said, the Boy Scouts could not show they had clear title to the 19-acre parcel. In searching land records, they were unable to determine that the property was ever granted to anyone, and that led them to start the process of applying for a land patent, he said.

Richardson said the state published a newspaper notice announcing the Boy Scouts' application and notified owners of adjacent property. It alerted agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and the State Highway Administration.

The deadline for anyone else to claim ownership was Jan. 20, and state officials say no one came forward. The next steps include a public hearing, likely to take place in March. If the Commissioner of Land Patents, Edward Papenfuse, determines that the Scouts' application has merit, the state will have the land appraised and determine a fair market value.

The state has incentive to sell the tract, officials say, because a sale would generate revenue for the state and clarify land records. The first $50,000 of any sale, minus surveying costs and reasonable legal fees, goes to the Maryland State Archives, which Papenfuse also heads. Any amount over that goes to the state's general fund. Richardson said the state has no idea how much the land might be worth because it has never been assessed.

In every land patent case, he said, buyers must abide by local zoning rules and regulations governing use of the land.

That isn't a problem for the Boy Scouts because they don't want to develop the property, Chase said. "We're not trying to be next to a shopping mall."

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