The $750,000 in state Rural Legacy money awarded to Carroll County on Tuesday was among the smallest amount any county received, but it's also $750,000 more than local officials expected.
The money will ensure that the county can buy easements to all of the land in its highest-priority area around New Windsor and along Little Pipe Creek, said William Powel, who oversees the county's land preservation efforts.
The Rural Legacy program is designed to preserve blocks of land with historic, environmental and agricultural significance that might otherwise not be saved by the state's existing land preservation programs.
The 2-year-old grant program is designed to complement the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program and is part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth Initiative.
Carroll officials hope to use the program to preserve a ring of green around New Windsor, and along the Little Pipe Creek watershed area on the county's western edge.
Applications from counties were due in January for the grants. But in January, Carroll County landowners interested in selling easements through the Rural Legacy Program had not committed to do so, Powel said. That made for what he felt was a weaker application with less documentation, he said, in a competitive state grant program.
"I wasn't terribly optimistic," Powel said.
He applied anyway, for $5 million, figuring that if the county couldn't get much this year, it would have a more solid application by January for the next round of grants.
By now, most of those landowners have committed, he said, and the $750,000 could probably buy rights to about 400 acres. Unspent money from the $2.5 million in county and state funds for last year should cover another 200. Last month, the county bought easements to seven properties totaling 634 acres, using about $1.4 million of the grant from last year.
Those easements would preserve the target of at least 1,000 acres in the No. 1 priority area and allow for purchases in the No. 2 priority area, Powel said.
The county commissioners pledged to put $1 million into the program for this year, but Powel said he isn't sure whether the county must contribute the whole $1 million, considering the state grant is far less than the $5 million Carroll requested.
Daniel Rosen, a staff member in the Maryland Office of Planning, said Carroll and Montgomery counties have done a good job of preserving land in Rural Legacy that is contiguous to farmland preserved through the Agricultural Land Preservation Program.
"What they're doing is building large chunks of protected land," Rosen said. "That's one of the things we stress in the Office of Planning, to use these two programs to reinforce each other."