DNR, Land Trust Confirm Former Golf Course Purchase; 672 Acres Will Be Preserved

DNR, Land Trust Confirm Former Golf Course Purchase; 672 Acres Will Be Preserved
The former golf course property is pictured in a file photo from 2020. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – The state’s purchase of a former golf course is expected to allow for restoration, reforestation and public access on hundreds of acres of land outside Berlin.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this week, in partnership with Lower Shore Land Trust, announced the purchase of the former Bay Club from Carl M. Freeman Companies. The purchase will help preserve 672 acres in the headwaters of the Pocomoke River.

“The purchase of this property will provide significant water quality and habitat benefits in addition to public recreational opportunities,” said Department of Natural Resources Land Acquisition and Planning Director Hilary Bell. “The department is grateful to our partners at the Lower Shore Land Trust for their work, and to the Carl M. Freeman Companies for their commitment to conservation.”

In late 2020, DNR proposed the purchase of two parcels — the Bay Club and a neighboring farm — totaling 672 acres. This week the agency reported that the purchase had been completed. According to a news release, going forward DNR will coordinate on watershed restoration projects that meet departmental goals for bay restoration and climate resiliency. Portions of the property may also provide for pollinator habitat demonstration, forest management and fulfil goals for meeting Maryland’s 5 Million Trees Initiative, which is a directive to plant 5 million native trees on public and private land by 2031. The Bay Club purchase also adds significant acres of new pines and mixed hardwood forest to the Chesapeake Forest Lands, which now total 76,000 acres in Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

The Bay Club was purchased using funds from Maryland’s Program Open Space. According to DNR, the seller recognized the conservation value of the property and worked diligently with Lower Shore Land Trust to meet the requirements of the state.

“We are delighted to have been part of preserving such a critical resource in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and have appreciated our partnership with the Lower Shore Land Trust and the State of Maryland,” said CEO of the Carl M. Freeman Companies Michelle Freeman.

Kate Patton, executive director of Lower Shore Land Trust, said the purchase took some time because of the multiple parcels and parties involved. She credited the various agencies involved as well as Mike Schofield, Chesapeake Forest manager, and Worcester County, with making the purchase a reality.

“We had to work through a lot of hurdles to make this happen but all our partners were focused on the same goal,” she said. “It really is all about the partnerships.”

Patton is particularly excited about the restoration possibilities that will be available on the immense property.

“We have an opportunity to work with the state and those partners in terms of developing trails as well as potential grassland and pollinator habitat,” she said.

She added that while the land would be managed by the Maryland Forest Service, there would be potential for a variety of demonstration projects. She said it was still too early to say when the public might have access to the property.

“It’s hard to say what the timeline will be for the public to have access but we’ve already set up an initial planning meeting,” she said.

Patton noted that while the rural Eastern Shore appears to have plenty of open space, there aren’t as many public trails as the community would like.

“There appears to be open space but we have limited access to hike, ride horses or get off road with bicycles,” she said. “This is an opportunity to add a large parcel.”

The Bay Club, a popular local golf course for three decades, closed in early 2019. Though the property was considered as the site for a campground at one time and as a housing development another time, in late 2020 the Maryland Board of Public Works approved DNR’s plan to purchase the former golf course as well as a neighboring farm. The price listed for the 437-acre Bay Club was $3,150,000 while the price for the adjacent farm was $1,075,000.

Berlin officials supported the project as soon as it was proposed, highlighting the fact that preserving the land would help establish a buffer of green space around town limits.

“The conservation efforts of the DNR will help the Town of Berlin work toward establishing a greenbelt around our town, a vital component of our comprehensive plan,” Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall wrote to the Board of Public Works in 2020. “Additionally, the proposed passive recreation activities by the DNR will add to the growing economic trend associated with environmental tourism and work seamlessly with the hospitality industry that thrives so well in Worcester County. As a town, we look forward to possible partnerships with the DNR to help with their effort to conserve the natural beauty of our area. We hope that this acquisition will be the beginning of great things for the greater Berlin area.”

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.