Groups offer chain-reaction plan to save river forest


Conservationists are scrambling to preserve the largest contiguous forest along the Severn River.

They have developed a chain-reaction strategy in which state or local government would buy a 50-acre site on the south shore near Round Bay to preserve it. If that effort is successful, Sherwood Forest residents have agreed to preserve their nearby 126-acre forest. Meanwhile, Belvoir Farms residents suggested they would preserve an additional 42 acres in exchange for support from the Severn River Association for a 28-slip community pier.

That would leave the prize, a 400-acre farm and woods in the middle owned by 83-year-old Oscar Sahlin and his family.

If the property is boxed in, environmentalists could pressure Mr. Sahlin to preserve the forest, said William Moulden, president of the Severn River Association. "That is the strategy."

Mr. Sahlin said yesterday he plans to keep his land and live long.

Dubbed the "green cathedral," the nearly 700-acre site consists of about six large, privately held tracts between Maynadier Creek and Sherwood Forest. The forests and bogs support wildlife that needs a large, forested habitat near water. In recent years, the land has drawn the attention of developers but has not changed hands.

Environmentalists became alarmed two weeks ago when the 50-acre site, owned by William Koenig, a Baltimore County dentist, went up for sale for nearly $1.5 million. The property is "the cornerstone to this open space deal," Mr. Moulden said.

The strategy, which intrigued the Maryland Environmental Trust and Severn River Land Trust, was not lost on Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials. Yesterday, trust officials, Mr. Moulden, Anne Arundel County officials and others met with DNR Program Open Space officials to ask the state to help buy the Koenig property and start what they called a chain reaction.

"We are sufficiently interested to at least explore it with other conservation authorities," H. Grant Dehart, director of the state's open space office, said after the meeting.

The agency has requested $19.3 million for land acquisition statewide in fiscal 1996. Another estimated $3.1 million in a separate open space program would go to Anne Arundel County. Conservationists asked the county for help buying the land but have no answer yet.

Sherwood Forest residents voted Monday night to grant a permanent conservation easement on the woods the community owns if the Koenig property is preserved. Conservationists say eventually they hope to buy or obtain permanent environmental protection easements on about 40 waterfront acres west of the Koenig site owned by two other families.

Dr. Koenig could not be reached.

On the west side of the "green cathedral" lies another key property: 42 acres owned by the Belvoir Farms community. Tuesday night, the Severn River Association pledged to endorse the community's effort to put 28 boat slips at its pier in Maynadier Creek. If the community wins the variance for the slips, it would grant a permanent conservation easement on the property to the Severn River Land Trust or other designated land trust.

It also would remove 32 rarely used mooring buoys from the creek.

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