PRINCE FREDERICK -- Moving to safeguard one of the last coastal wildernesses on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland officials are expected to spend $5.1 million to buy 757 acres of waterfront, woods and wetlands in Calvert County that belonged to the late state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.
With a conservation group as go-between, Goldstein's heirs agreed to sell the tract, known as the "Bay Farm," which is touted by biologists as an ecological gem and which may harbor the remains of an undiscovered Colonial settlement.
"This is some of the most pristine land in Southern Maryland, and extraordinarily important," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday. He added that the state purchase, which is to be presented to the Board of Public Works next month, fits in with his Smart Growth strategy of trying to preserve as many large undeveloped tracts as possible in the rapidly growing region.
The Goldstein property stretches for a mile along Parkers Creek, a largely undisturbed 7,300-acre watershed that biologists say is a microcosm of how the Chesapeake looked before Europeans arrived.
The creek basin harbors several rare plants, including the large-seeded forget-me-not and the single-headed pussytoe. The cliffs along the bay shore are home to the Puritan tiger beetle and to the northeastern beach tiger beetle, both on the federal endangered species list.
The beach, patrolled yesterday by a pair of great blue herons, is littered with fossil shells from the Miocene era.
"All the shells you see in here are 12 million years old -- isn't that incredible?" said Joy A. Bartholomew, president of the American Chestnut Land Trust, which will manage the property for the state.
Buried in the marshes or under the sandy beach -- or somewhere offshore -- may be traces of a long-lost Colonial settlement. Jonathan McKnight, southern regional wildlife manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, said that a famous 17th-century map of the Chesapeake shows a stockade named Warrington on the northern shore of the creek.
The town -- or fort or trading center -- has vanished, McKnight said, although what could be a slave or indentured servant cemetery has recently been found.
"Not only do we have an ecosystem worth protecting, but also some undiscovered cultural riches," said Bartholomew.
Over the years, state officials and conservation groups have preserved nearly 1,800 acres in the Parkers Creek basin, either through easements or outright purchase. The Goldstein property was considered critical to protecting the watershed.
Officials had tried without success to persuade the popular 10-term comptroller to sell it, or at least to formally preserve it from development.
As recently as two years ago, a developer had proposed building a 1,000-home retirement community and golf course on the property. County officials suggested the project go elsewhere.
Goldstein died July 3, 1998, at the age of 85. In April, his children quietly sold the tract to The Nature Conservancy for $5.5 million. The state will buy it from the conservancy for $5.1 million, its appraised value.
"It was going to be preserved at some point; it was just a matter of when," said Philip T. Goldstein, executor of his father's estate and a real estate appraiser in Prince Frederick, the county seat.
The property was the largest and most valuable among Goldstein's extensive land holdings. The late comptroller owned 1,900 acres worth $11.5 million, according to an inventory of his $18.2 mil- lion estate filed at the county courthouse.
Other than two Ocean City condominiums and a 145-acre wooded hunting tract in Dorchester County, all of Goldstein's property was in his native Calvert.
"Legend had it that he owned thousands of acres all over the state," Bartholomew said. "He was larger than life in many ways."
Philip Goldstein said he and his sisters, Louisa Goldstein and Margaret Goldstein Janney, see the preservation of the property along Parkers Creek as a memorial to their father and their mother, Hazel, who died in 1996.
But they also had another motive for selling: Philip Goldstein said the proceeds paid the inheritance taxes.
The conservancy will lose $400,000 on the deal, acknowledged Steve Bunker, director of protection for the group's Maryland chapter. But the state by law cannot pay more than the appraised value, he noted, and biologists consider the tract so important that the loss is worth it.
The American Chestnut Land Trust already owns 816 acres in the watershed and manages another 1,600 acres for the state and the Nature Conservancy. Passive recreation such as hiking and canoeing will be allowed on the Goldstein property, as well as traditional activities such as farming and hunting.
Though the purchase goes a long way toward protecting the watershed, Bartholomew said local activists must remain vigilant against destructive interlopers, notably riders of all-terrain vehicles who tear through the marshes.
The trust also has raised concerns about a proposal to spray up to 300,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater on a wooded tract in the creek's headwaters. The issue is pending before the county commissioners.
Pub Date: 9/10/99