WASHINGTON Maryland conservation groups are welcoming President Clinton’s proposed $1 billion “Lands Legacy Initiative,” saying it would help protect at least two high- profile national parks in the state.
The initiative, unveiled earlier this month, will “preserve places of natural beauty all across America,” Clinton said in his State of the Union address Tuesday.
While specifics of the initiative are still being worked out, two Maryland sites have been identified as targets of the program: Antietam National Battlefield and the Assateague Island National Seashore.
The program will likely be used to supplement private conservation efforts and push through protection projects, some of which have been planned for 20 years or more.
“We’re not exactly sure what (Clinton’s plan) means,” said Assateague Park Superintendent Marc Koenings.
But he said the park expects to be able to set aside as many as one-tenth of its 40,000 acres for permanent wilderness protection, a designation that was first proposed in the 1970s.
Most park visitors will see little difference if the change goes through — the affected area is miles from the nearest paved road and currently only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The new designation will ban vehicles altogether from the specific area, creating what Koenings called a “pristine atmosphere free of mechanized vehicles.”
At Antietam, the program is expected to boost private and government efforts to preserve parcels of land that have been inaccessible to the public or have been identified as important to the Civil War battlefield.
“We have several monuments that the public doesn’t have access to,” said Antietam Superintendent John Howard.
He said the park has been able to buy up privately owned parcels in piecemeal fashion, as congressional appropriations and private funds from conservation groups become available.
“The system we have works well – what we have been lacking are the funds to implement,” Howard said.
Topping Howard’s wish list are parcels near the North Woods section and areas he considers in danger of development in the southern part of the battlefield, where the third phase of the battle took place in the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862.
Private groups like the Conservation Fund, which has purchased land at Antietam in the past, welcomed the presidential pledge of funds.
“The president’s initiative gives us an opportunity to build on the bipartisan efforts of the last few years … to create a legacy for future generations of Americans,” Conservation Fund President John Turner said in a prepared statement.
Details of the president’s initiative remain elusive: Howard said he learned of it “when the local TV news station came out last week to ask about it.”
Some on Capitol Hill are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the program, which they said was just one of many promises strung through the State of the Union address.
“He (Clinton) can’t possibly do everything that he said from the same pot of money,” said Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Frederick.
“One thing you can guarantee,” she added, “it sounds great.”