Wicomico Accepts Waterfront Land Donation

SALISBURY — Wicomico County officials this week accepted the donation of a nearly 50-acre parcel of historic property along the Wicomico River after reviewing its potential ecological and historic value.

The roughly 48.4-acre track known as Bell Island is situated along the north side of the Wicomico River adjacent to the Harbor Pointe community. It is one of three parcels acquired by the city of Salisbury from the Empire Mortgage Company. Years ago, the parcels were intended to be common areas of the newly developed Harbor Pointe community along the river, but they were sold off during a bankruptcy proceeding in the early 1990s.

The parcel was intended to be donated back to the community’s homeowner’s association, but because the property consists largely of wetlands unusable for development, the Harbor Pointe Association declined the offer. Instead, Salisbury, through the Empire Mortgage Company, offered the parcel to Wicomico County, and the County Council on Tuesday voted to accept the donation.

The donated parcel is adjacent to the county-owned Pemberton Park, a vast area along the river that includes a network of walking trails, bird watching areas and other recreational opportunities.

Pemberton Park Board of Directors President Russell Dashiell told the County Council on Tuesday the board has long desired adding the property to Pemberton Park.

“This is the final leg of a 25-year journey,” he said. “This land has real environmental value, educational value and historic value.”

When asked if there were any costs to the county associated with accepting the land donation, Dashiell explained it was largely made up of wetlands and no additional expenses were anticipated. He also explained it would conserve nearly 50 acres of sensitive wetlands from possible future development.

“It’s marshland and it won’t cost the county anything to maintain it,” he said. “If you accept it, we’ll bring it into the conservation area of Pemberton Park. It will be a part of the county off limits to hunting and will be just a great addition to the park. There might be some opportunity in the future to expand some of the walking trails in that area.”

Dashiell explained the property consists largely of pristine wetlands and was tied into the original plantation occupied by Salisbury’s founder, Isaac Handy, in the 1740s.

“The home was built in 1741 and the property was part of the original land grant,” he said. “I believe at one time there was a colonial wharf there, but it’s just marshland now.”

When asked if the land had any true value, Dashiell told the County Council its environmental and historic value likely outweighed any marketable value for the county.

“It is marshland and could only be marketed for its hunting and trapping areas,” he said. “It’s qualitative value is hard to assess, but it has clear value from an ecological and recreational standpoint. It has a definite conservation value.”

County Executive Richard Pollitt, Jr. had already endorsed the acceptance of the property as had the county’s recreation and parks department. After listening to the presentation, the County Council voted to follow suit.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Council President Gail Bartkovich. “It’s just a plus for so many reasons.”

Councilman Bob Caldwell agreed, saying it wasn’t often a cost-free donation of waterfront land came around.

“No doubt it’s a gem,” he said. “When we get an opportunity like this, we need to jump on it.”