Public Comments Sought On Possible Uses For Ilia Fehrer Nature Preserve

SNOW HILL – Worcester County is currently soliciting public input on a forest stewardship plan for the Ilia Fehrer Nature Preserve.

The plan, which outlines the various sections of the 437-acre preserve, will serve as a guide for future activity on the property.

“The purpose is to identify the existing features of the property in addition to laying out a roadmap for future activities on the property,” said David Bradford, Worcester County’s deputy director of environmental programs.

The Ilia Fehrer Nature Preserve, located on Assateague Road just east of Berlin, was acquired by the county in 2011 with the assistance of state and federal partners as well as from The Trust for Public Land. The property, much of which runs along Ayres Creek, is located within the Holly Grove Swamp area, the largest block of unprotected forestland in the county.

“It’s part of the Holly Grove Swamp area which is 4,000 acres of relatively undisturbed Eastern Shore swamp,” said Roman Jesien, science coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. “It houses a lot of creatures that are really special to the area.”

The forest stewardship plan, which is available on the county’s website, delineates the various portions of the Ilia Fehrer Nature Preserve. While 88 percent of the property consists of wetlands, there are 51 acres of uplands. The plan details each major stand of trees on the property.

“The plan is a forestry document that breaks the property into different tracts,” Bradford said, adding that once it’s adopted the plan will be reviewed and updated periodically.

In addition to outlining the various areas, the plan describes recommendations on how each area should be treated. While some portions of the property should be “free to grow” others could be clear-cut and restored.

Comments on the plan are being accepted through Feb. 27. County staff will review them before presenting the plan to the Worcester County Commissioners in March.

According to Bradford, once the plan is adopted, the county will explore potential funding options to aid in the restoration of the property and its establishment as a passive recreation area. Along with wetland restoration and reforestation, officials expect the preserve to be home to passive recreation activities such as hiking, horseback riding and birding.

“We want to have some sort of trail network,” Bradford said. “It’s going to be done in phases.”

Jesien says the idea behind the preserve is to allow important wetlands to exist and at the same time be accessible to the public.

“It’s a large contiguous forested area which we don’t see much of anymore…” he said. “It’s a habitat that’s quickly disappearing.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.