SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN – Maryland will spend $25 million to buy more than 12,000 acres of “absolutely irreplaceable” farmlands, forests and historically important sites and preserve them from suburban sprawl, officials announced Wednesday.
The new funding adds seven sites across the state to the state’s Rural Legacy Program and adds funding for 12 sites that were already protected under the program. The grants include land around the Potomac, Patuxent and Gunpowder rivers, as well as Civil War battlefields and historic villages such as Burkitsville and Keedysville.
“The Rural Legacy Program is about preserving (Maryland’s) natural resources. These areas, collected, are absolutely irreplaceable,” said Gov. Parris Glendening, who announced the grants from an overlook on Sugarloaf Mountain, with rolling farmland in the distance.
The grants announced Wednesday bring total state funding to $54 million since the Rural Legacy Program was started two years ago. Local governments have kicked in another $16 million under the program.
The program is part of the governor’s Smart Growth initiative, which aims to preserve open space and direct new development into already-developed areas of the state. With the projects announced Wednesday, the state will have bought more than 31,000 acres for protection.
The goal of the Rural Legacy Program is to buy 200,000 acres of endangered land within the next 13 years, said William Hussmann, chairman of the Rural Legacy Advisory Board.
The 11-member advisory board evaluates requests from local governments and recommends which sites should be included in the next round of funding. From February to August, advisory board members visited sites around the state and waded through 25 applications that requested about $90 million.
“It’s a very competitive process,” Hussmann said.
The main criteria for inclusion in the program are the quality of the area to be protected and the level of commitment from the community, Hussmann said. He said one of the most committed communities was Baltimore County, which won $3 million in this round of state funding.
The seven new sites announced Wednesday are in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Cecil, Harford and Howard counties.
The program was hailed Wednesday by environmental officials for its stand against suburban sprawl.
“More funding is going to be needed” to reach the program’s goal of 200,000 preserved acres within 15 years, and adequately preserve endangered areas in the state, said Theresa Pierno, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Office.