Land trust buys 145 acres to stave off development


As Johnston Hegeman stood along Club House Road in Perryman, a blue heron sailed across a lake bordering the country lane.

The scene is one Hegeman expects will be replayed for generations to come now that the Harford Land Trust has purchased for preservation a 145-acre tract that includes the freshwater, spring-fed lake.

"It's a wonderful, natural site for wildlife," said Hegeman, president of the trust.

"In many ways, you feel like you're miles away from everything."

The trust, a non-profit organization that buys scenic sites threatened by development, settled on the Perryman property Monday. The site, for which the trust paid $153,450, is the year-old group's first acquisition.

The preserve, including the 30-acre lake surrounded by forests, serves as a fishing area for bald eagles, Canada geese and herons. Beavers, deer and a variety of birds, including orioles, make the site their home.

Hegeman said the trust expects to sell the site to the county in the next few years so it can be developed into a public nature park.

"This is an ideal spot for a natural public park," Hegeman said. "We'd hate to see it developed so close to the Chesapeake Bay."

The site, called the Forest Greens preserve, is off Route 159 about a mile from the Bush River. The property is part of the Forest Greens subdivision, partially developed 60 years ago but never finished. The site the trust purchased had been owned by the families of Wilmer Cronin Sr. and Ryland Mitchell. Cronin and Mitchell were the developers of Forest Greens.

Although in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, where most development is prohibited, the Forest Greens subdivision could have been completed because the site was grandfathered under the critical area law.

"It's a natural site in an area that is going to be intensely developed in the years to come," Hegeman said. "It is just a question of time."

The organization purchased the site with a $150,000 interest-free loan from the Abell Foundation, a Baltimore-based philanthropic group that focuses on artistic, educational and environmental efforts. The loan is to be repaid by July 1994.

In addition, the Forest Greens-Perryman Community Association, a neighborhood citizens group, organized bazaars, T-shirt sales and other fund-raisers to get money for the purchase, Hegeman said.

Two of the community association's members, Edward and Joyce Crothers, put up a $1,000 deposit to hold the land until the trust could get the money to buy the preserve, Hegeman noted.

Edward Crothers said he and his neighbors want to maintain the rural character of the Forest Greens area.

"We're kind of selfish, and we like the quiet and the peace," said Crothers, who lives about three miles from the preserve.

"It just seemed to be a crime to destroy it. We need to save open space."

Hegeman said he hopes the Forest Greens acquisition serves as a "catalyst" to generate donations to the trust so it can purchase other areas for preservation.

The trust, with about 170 individual and corporate members, has several properties in mind for acquisition. A 50-acre site bordered by Deer Creek and the Palmer State Park tops the group's list. The property is expected to cost $260,000.

And the group has its eye on a 22-acre property along Falling Branch near Pylesville. The site contains the second-highest waterfall in Maryland.

The state is expected to buy the site, but if budget woes disrupt the acquisition, the trust might acquire the site to hold it for the state, Hegeman said.

"I'm hoping this [Forest Greens acquisition] will galvanize people to show what can be done," he said. "We think we're doing well."

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