Saga Ends: Chapman Forest Will Stay Intact

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ending a 15-year saga that pitted development against preservation, Charles County leaders have authorized an environmental group to take the lead in plotting a course for a historic stretch of forest along the Potomac River.

A celebration of the agreement between the Charles County commissioners and the Chapman Forest Foundation planned for today comes after years of debate over the 2,200-acre state park and wooded reserve north of Indian Head that offers binocular-aided views of the top of the Washington Monument.

The land, along Indian Head Highway, once was slated to become the site of thousands of homes, as well as stores and businesses occupying more space than the St. Charles Towne Center mall in Waldorf.

The county commissioners had eyed a 60-acre slice for athletic fields. And last year, aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) discussed selling the land to developers.

Instead, the riverfront forest, once owned by friends and business associates of George Washington's family, will retain its natural condition for nature walks, history tours and environmental education.

"The county has agreed to our vision, which means there will be no efforts to bring in anything that would fragment or degrade the property,'' said Bonnie Bick, the foundation's president.

"The best and highest use for this property has been achieved, for present and future generations," she added.

Known as Chapman's Landing when it was headed toward becoming a large subdivision, the property has been at the center of one of the area's longest disputes among developers, government officials and environmentalists. In the early 1990s, developers planned to build 4,600 houses, offices and a golf course there.

In a victory for environmentalists, Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) halted the development plans in 1998, backing the state's purchase of the land for $25 million.

The new agreement means that the county commissioners have abandoned plans to create athletic fields in the park. The commissioners will endorse a partnership between the state and the foundation under which the foundation will assume the primary role in planning the property's future.

In exchange, the foundation has agreed to support the county's interest in building an industrial business park on a separate 50-acre parcel near the Maryland Airport in Pomonkey.

Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) said the board "felt it was the right thing to do not to chop up the land."

The county wants to help the foundation open the park to more public tours and private events such as weddings, Cooper said, and to create trails to the Potomac from Ruth B. Swann Memorial Park, a county-owned park.

Cooper added that a proposed ballpark, with its bright lights, would have been too close to the entrance to historic Mount Aventine, a house built by Pearson Chapman around 1840.

John Rye, president of Indian Head's youth soccer league, said it was a shame that the Chapman land would not be used for athletic fields. Indian Head's young athletes play on fields in Pomonkey that he described as "worn out."

The county is searching for 50 to 100 acres of park space in Bryans Road. However, Rye said, "They've been looking, but they can't find anything."

"We could have done something wonderful for the kids," he said.

The foundation is hosting a free community celebration from 1 to 5 p.m. today at the forest. Events will include a nature walk, historical talk and musical performance by Greentree. More information and driving directions are available at http://www.chapmanforest.org .


© 2005 The Washington Post Company