A 43-acre forest along Patterson Mill Road, in the heart of Harford County’s development envelope, is now under permanent protection from being developed, the Harford Land Trust announced Friday.
The Pitts family donated the permanent conservation easement to the local land preservation nonprofit and the Maryland Environmental Trust in July. This method of land protection is different than the more well-known programs in the county, according to a Harford Land Trust news release, in that no money changes hands. Donated conservation easements are recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a form of public charitable gift.
“Everyone in my family, all of my six offspring, are so delighted that their heritage will result in this beautiful piece of property being protected for perpetuity,” said Edward Pitts, the 87-year-old patriarch of the family.
The forest land is located at the southern end of Patterson Mill Road near Emmorton, and was described by the Land Trust as “an oasis in the heart of Harford County’s Development Envelope.” The protection of the forest eliminates the potential for up to 200 homes on the property, the news release states.
“I really always loved Bel Air, and I thought to myself, here is this land, it’s right in the middle of the action,” Pitts said. “It’s our way of just quietly thanking Bel Air for all the years that we have lived there.”
Pitts first contacted Harford Land Trust in the summer of 2019. Over the course of two years, the land trust worked with Pitts and his family to realize his vision of permanently protecting the forested land along Bynum Run, according to the news release.
The property hugs the waterway for about a third of a mile along the one-way section of Patterson Mill Road near the intersection with Wheel Road. The mixed hardwood forest and small tributary stream provides habitat for local wildlife, absorbs excess nutrients from stormwater runoff, and sequesters tons of carbon annually, according to the Land Trust. The forest also safeguards against accelerated streambank erosion and threats to aquatic species in Bynum Run.
The land was previously farmed and void of trees when Pitts purchased the property in 1976.
“I spent the next 40 years going through the woods and cutting the pernicious plants,” he said. “We would prune around the ash and oak saplings and as a result, over the years, we have speeded up plant succession quite considerably and the land has gone back to its original condition after having been a farm. It’s been a long proposition for us, and my family has been invested in that land both as labor and enjoyment for a great many years.”
The property will remain privately owned by the Pitts family without public access.
“Conservation donations, like the Pitts’, are an expression of love for the land and the people that will come after us,” Kristen Kirkwood, the executive director of the Harford Land Trust, said in a statement.
The nonprofit works with landowners, to conserve land and protect its natural resources for the betterment of Harford County today and in the future, according to the release. The Harford Land Trust in the past has acquired land now used for public parks such as Kilgore Falls and Belle Vue Farm and parts of Eden Mill Nature Center, Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, and Stoney Demonstration Forest.