State To Preserve 430-Acre Tract With $1.8M Purchase

BERLIN – Worcester County and Ocean City fared well this week in the latest state Board of Public Works funding cycle with the approval of the purchase of a vast 430-acre site in the coastal bays for perpetual open space, another half of a million dollars in state Rural Legacy funding for the coastal bays and a $75,000 allocation to Ocean City for a rehabilitated public playground in the resort.

The three-member Board of Public Works, which includes Governor Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, convened on Wednesday to consider funding approval for projects and programs large and small across the state.

By the end of the meeting, Worcester County and Ocean City had garnered their fair share of the millions allocated during the session. Perhaps the most significant local allocation was approval for the purchase of a 430-acre tract of environmentally sensitive land in the coastal bays watershed known as the Adkins Company property. The significant piece of property will be purchased through the state’s Program Open Space with a price tag of around $1.8 million and placed in perpetual conservation.

Within the boundaries of the Adkins Company property are forested wetlands, shoreline areas and creeks situated along Ayers Creek and Newport Bay. Conservation of the property will safeguard wildlife habitat and protect water quality in the coastal bays for future generations, according to O”Malley, who said investing in resource preservation remained important despite the state’s economic difficulties.

“These are challenging times for our families and our state, but by working together with our partners, we are continuing to invest in a more sustainable future,” he said. “This acquisition is a perfect example of how preserving key ecological areas and providing recreational opportunities for Maryland families can go hand in hand.”

Maryland’s coastal bays comprise one of only 27 estuaries nationwide that are protected under the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acclaimed National Estuary Program. The initiative is designed to protect the most economically and environmentally significant estuaries in the nation.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), working in partnership with Worcester County and the Trust for Public Land, has secured a Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help fund the acquisition of the property. Title to the property will be vested in the name of Worcester County and the property will be managed by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

While the BPW approved the purchase of the 430-acre Adkins Company property along Ayers Creek, the three-member board was not finished allocating funds and resources to the coastal bays and Worcester County. Later during the same session, the BPW approved $12.6 million in grants to local governments and land trusts for preservation of forest and farmland throughout the state through the Rural Legacy Program, including $500,000 for Worcester County.

The Rural Legacy Program preserves large, contiguous tracts of land and enhances natural resources, agricultural, forestry and environmental protection while supporting land for natural resource-based industries. The program is unique in that it creates public-private partnerships and allows those who know the landscape best, such as local governments and land trusts, to determine the best way to protect the resources critical to the economy, the environment and quality of life.

“Through the Rural Legacy Program, we are able to protect our working farms and forests and, in doing so, jobs for our working families,” said O’Malley. “By protecting a traditional way of life and our abundant resources, we can ensure a sustainable future for our children and our state.”

Adding one more feather in the local area’s funding cap, the BPW also approved the allocation of $75,000 in Program Open Space and Community Parks and Playgrounds Program to the town of Ocean City to replace an existing playground at Robin Park along Robin Drive in the 28th Street area. Ocean City will receive the $75,000 to create a new, state-of-the-art playground at Robin Park that conforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines for commercial playgrounds and bring the facility into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Using the funds, Ocean City will improve accessibility at the park’s playground using a bonded rubber or comparable safety surface. The playground will be designed for children ages 5-12. Mayor Rick Meehan praised the $75,000 allocation for the playground.

“With the support of the DNR through the Community Parks and Playgrounds program, Ocean City will be able to revitalize Robin Park,” he said. “By restoring a neighborhood park, complete with an ADA accessible playground, the facility will provide opportunities for families and visitors to gather, exercise and improve their personal health. Given these uncertain and lean economic times, Ocean City’s Robin Park project would not be possible without the Community Parks and Playgrounds grant award.”