Nan, Jennifer and Emily Webster bundled against a stiff wind blowing off the Bush River and got a valuable civics lesson early yesterday.
The girls, ages 3 to 8, stood with their father, Harry, along Locust Road in Harford County's Forest Greens community to witness an unusual property auction -- one that will benefit them for years to come.
The lesson: In the face of rapid development, citizens, businesses and others can work together to preserve some remaining open space.
Mr. Webster and other Forest Greens and Perryman residents have been working more than one year to save from development a 145-acre tract that includes a 30-acre lake, wetlands and woodlands.
The residents accomplished that goal in June, when the Harford Land Trust, a non-profit organization that buys natural and scenic sites threatened by development, purchased the lake and surrounding property for $153,450. The residents have solicited donations from local businesses and held flea markets to help in the purchase.
Now the trust and the residents are trying to pay back a $150,000 interest-free loan used to buy the property.
Yesterday's auction of three half-acre wooded lots near the lake will help eliminate the debt.
The lots are among other home sites, and are zoned for residential development. They are considered extraneous, trust officials said, and not critical to the "Save the Lake" project because they're outside the natural area.
One of the lots sold for $28,500 -- to Webster Wright, who lives nearby.
Mr. Wright, who is in the mobile home business, said he would hold onto the property for sale later.
But the two other lots did not sell. The trust failed to get the minimum $20,000 it wanted for those lots, despite auctioneer David W. Shrodes' many attempts to flush out bidders among the 30 people who attended.
"It's getting cold out here, folks. Let's go," said Mr. Shrodes, who donated his services to the trust. "It's only money," he barked at one point.
Still, trust officials said they were pleased to make progress toward paying back the loan.
The $150,000 loan came from the Abell Foundation, a Baltimore-based philanthropic group that focuses on artistic, educational and environmental efforts. It is to be repaid by July 1994.
The trust owns other lots in the Forest Greens community that it may try to sell in the spring. The two lots that did not sell yesterday may be put on the open market later, trust officials said.
"These guys are going to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor for years to come," Mr. Webster said, speaking of his children.
The Webster family lives just down the road from the lots that were up for auction.
"These guys take for granted that there are ducks all around," said Mr. Webster.
The lake and surrounding undeveloped land provides ideal habitat for the ducks, as well as herons, beavers and other wildlife, he said.
"Each and every piece of land around here is platted for development," Mr. Webster said.
The lake property, called the Forest Greens preserve, is off Route 159 about one mile from the Bush River.
The property is part of the Forest Greens subdivision, partially developed 60 years ago but never finished.
The site had been owned by the families of Wilmer Cronin Sr. and Ryland Mitchell, the developers of Forest Greens.
Although included in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, where most development is restricted, the Forest Greens subdivision could have been completed because the site was grandfathered under the critical area law.
The lake property, which is open to the public, is the trust's first major acquisition.
"We hope to build up a revolving fund that we can use to rescue desirable properties," said Johnston N. Hegeman, a farmer who is president of the trust.
Such groups typically buy land to save it from development, then attempt to resell the tracts to local governments.
Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has pledged to )) seek county money to buy the lake property from the trust so it can be used as a public park.