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Carroll land OK'd for rural program

A 14,145-acre triangle of the Upper Patapsco River drainage basin in Carroll County has been added to the state's Rural Legacy Program, designed to buy conservation easements against development on land such as farms, forests, wildlife areas and historic sites.

The new designation - the second in Carroll County - was announced last week at a state Board of Public Works meeting, said Bill Powel, program manager for the Agricultural Land Preservation Program of Carroll County. He also oversees the Rural Legacy Program in Carroll.

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The county has tried since early last year to have the Upper Patapsco area designated for preservation and succeeded with this third attempt, Powel said. The designation will help the county "to protect as much land from development in the area as possible.

"They didn't give us any money, but I guess they will," he said.

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The Upper Patapsco River area runs from Finksburg to Westminster to Hampstead along the Baltimore County line, he said, excluding developed areas. Easements purchased in rural lands protect the properties in perpetuity from commercial or residential development, he said.

The area includes most of the drainage basin of the East Branch of the Patapsco River and part of its West Branch. Together, the two waterways contribute 16 percent of the water flowing into Liberty Reservoir. The reservoir supplies water to the Baltimore metropolitan area, said the announcement by the state Department of Natural Resources, which runs the Rural Legacy Program.

More than 30 historic sites are in the area, including churches, cemeteries, mills, schools and farmhouses, as well as habitat for Maryland's endangered bog turtle.

The board also approved last week $750,000 to acquire easements on 254 acres in the Little Pipe Creek Rural Legacy Area - in existence since 1999 - although it has not received money every year, Powel said.

Since fiscal year 2000, 34 properties - 3,398 acres - in the Little Pipe Creek area have been preserved. Powel said he expects the total will reach more than 4,000 acres by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Like the Upper Patapsco, he said, "the Little Pipe Creek Rural Legacy Area is pretty much a triangle."

The Little Pipe Creek area includes about 24,000 acres around Union Bridge and New Windsor, he said. It is roughly bounded by Sam's Creek and Little Pipe Creek west at the Frederick County line, Keymar, and Keysville, Uniontown and Middleburg toward Westminster, then south beside Route 27 to Taylorsville.

The Rural Legacy Program is different from the Agricultural Land Preservation Program, which is under the state Department of Agriculture, but Powel said the net effect in Carroll might be the same.

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"In the Little Pipe Creek area, almost all the land in Rural Legacy is agricultural," he said. "The Rural Legacy easement is a multipurpose land preservation - but essentially all of the easements in Little Pipe Creek could be considered agricultural preservation also."

Carroll ranks fifth in the nation in the number of acres in agricultural preservation, he said. Montgomery County ranks first, although he believes it should bear an asterisk because it allows the transfer of development rights.

Carroll had 11,433 agricultural acres preserved by easements at the end of the 2003 fiscal year, he said, including the 3,398 acres in the Rural Legacy area around Little Pipe Creek.

In all, the state board approved Wednesday a total of $3.425 million for the Rural Legacy Program, to acquire easements on 908 acres in Carroll, Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties, according to the DNR.


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