The wooden sign planted firmly along Ten Mile Creek Road states what is already visible. Grassy fields wrinkle freely around the few homes and dairy cows swagger slowly across the gravel road, oblivious to a passing car. The visitor does not need to be told that this is "Boyds, Home in the Country."

Time has left few marks on this bucolic region in upper Montgomery County where the Ten Mile and Little Seneca creeks meander through the valley, clear and clean. Most of the Victorian houses built in the late 1800s still stand and the population count hovers around the turn-of-the-century figure. Boyds' Country Store and a farm supply store comprise the town center.

It is an enclave, residents say, removed in spirit from the hustle of Washington.

But what time has failed to change in more than a century since Col. James A. Boyds built the first home, may be altered dramatically during the next couple of years if construction of a 525-acre multipurpose reservoir on Little Seneca Creek begins. Homes will be razed and the land inundated. A 1,000-car parking lot will border the reservoir.

Most officials agree the arrival of the reservoir is inevitable.

If this is so, their quiet country life, residents say, will vanish.

Two years ago, the Montgomery County Council authorized the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) to plan the $35 million lake and dam as recommended by a Bi-County Water Supply Task Force. The task force, made up of representatives from Montgomery and Prince George's county governments, the WSSC and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, proposed the project as a way to ensure adequate water supplies for the two countries during drought.

Ever-expanding populations in Prince George's and Montgomery counties have made creation of an emergency water reservoir necessary, explained associate park and planning director Bob Young.

The final plan is now ready and will be presented in the fall to the respective county governments. If approved -- as most officials feel it will be -- construction should begin in two years and be completed in 10.

Ironically, the Boyds site, planning officials said, was chosen for many of the same reasons the 250 residents decided to live there. The rural character of the land, graced with sloping hills and dotted by only a few homes, makes it an ideal spot for the reservoir. After studying numerous alternative sites, they explained, it was decided construction in the Boyds area would affect the least number of people.

This explanation, however, is of little solace to the 16 families whose homes abut or fall in the line of the proposed reservoir.

They say it is a strange turn of justice when a low growth area must suffer the consequences incurred by the growth of other areas.

Most of the residents are resigned to the fact that the reservoir will be built. The Boyds Civic Association even voted last month to recommend approval of the final plan after a requested change was made.

"We would rather not have anything," explained association president Roland Gonano. "But we are a small community and do not have the numbers to fight it (the reservoir). Instead our efforts are directed toward making the park facilities more palatable."

When the reservoir is not being used as an emergency water source, explained Young, it will be used as a recreational park. Boating and picnicking will be allowed.

WSSC engineer Richard Shagogue said studies show drought conditions that would require drawing water from the reservoir may occur once in every seven to 10 years. He also said a drought could last from three to 30 days.

No emergency reservoirs now exist in the area, said area planner Perry Berman. The Triadelphia and Duckett Dam reservoirs already are used on a daily basis, he said.

Slowly and steadily, using Montgomery County funds, most of the land needed for the proposed lake and recreational area has been acquired, according to Young. He said that only 625 acres of the necessary 1,862 acres remain to be acquired. Four hundred of those acres will be donated by Prudential Life Insurance Company and the remaining land will be acquired with $3.1 million that has been allocated by the council, he said.

Young said the county was able to purchase the land and homes before final approval of the project by using funds earmarked for park land. If the project is not approved, he said, the county would still retain the property and use it as an open space park.

Eight houses already have been bought by the park and planning commission, according to park planner Bill Gries, and eight remain to be purchased. The eight families whose homes were bought have already moved, he said.

For several of the eight families whose names have yet to be bought, the past two years have been marked by anxiety and waiting.

A curious black sheep rambled to the fence, nudging his nose between the slats, when a visitor rolled up to Connie and Calvin Early's Clarksburg Drive home. Eighteen other sheep followed, scrambling for a shady position under the weeping cherry tree at the crest of the driveway.

The Earlys and their two children moved four years ago to their five-acre home in Boyds. Tired of suburban living in Rockville, the Early's chose Boyds for its undisturbed fields and creek-filled valley."

"We love it here," Connie Early wistfully explained, petting one of the sheep. "When we bought the house we thought we would never have to move again."

Two years ago, however, a notice arrived informing the Early's they would probably have to move. Little Seneca Creek -- the outlet designated to carry the emergency water to the Potomac River filtration plant -- bisects their property. Their land would be one of the first areas to be completely inundated, the Earlys were told.

"Everytime the parks department would hold a hearing, the planning officials would assure the residents that the rural quality of the community would be protected," said Calvin Early, chief neurosurgeon at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

The picture officials painted, of a scenic, unobtrusive lake, "is complete subterfuge," he said.

Instead of an aesthetic addition to the community, Early said, the lake will attract throngs of escaping city dwellers.

According to associate park director Young, the park will have nearly 1,000 parking spaces and will be able to accommodate more than 3,000 cars a day during peak periods. The park will be "a very popular spot," Young explained enthusiastically.

"Very popular," responded Early. Instead of the sign reading "Boyds, Home in the Country," Early wryly quipped, it should read "Boyds, a Home in the Country Club."

In addition to the influx of recreation seekers, Early predicted the lake would set off a surge of development.

Planner Berman conceded that the pace of development might quicken, but he said the density would not. The lower eastern area surrounding the lake in Germantown, Berman explained, had already been classified as a growth area in the county's general plan. But the Boyds' land abutting the lake -- the majority of the surrounding area -- will be maintained as a rural area, Berman explained. Zoning in that area will be restricted to one house per half-acre in the already developed portion of Boyds and to one house per five acres in the other areas.

Despite the zoning limitations, Connie and Calin Early plan to leave Montgomery County when their house is bought. They said they are tired of moving and fighting. And they see no end to the constant encroachment of rural areas in Montgomery County.

"Its funny," Connie Early murmurs, "this is America -- land of individual property, but anyone can still come in and take whatever they want. I don't understand it."