Home to the Canada goose, the great blue heron and multitudes of ducks, the historic Patuxent River Valley has been a planner's dilemma for 20 years.
For almost as long, homeowners, landowners, sportsmen, campers, and environmentalists have argued over the future of the lush, 55-mile river valley.
Finally, officials may have come up with a plan that all parties -- including the river itself -- can live with.
Developed by the Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and a citizens advisory committee, the new plan appears to be less ambitious than the controversial proposal first offered in 1964.
At park commission hearings last week, residents most directly affected seemed satisfied with the plan for future use of the river park along Prince George's southern border.
"The new plan is much more acceptable to us," said Robert Clagget of Brandwine, who owns a farm on the river.
By contrast, a 1977 hearing on a river valley plan caused an uproar as hundreds of landowners and their neighbors, particulary from the southern reaches of the river, offered their protests. The then-current plan, which called for a park of 22,000 continuous acres along the river, incensed many property owners who would have been forced to sell some of their property along the riverfront.
"That old plan had a line that ran right behind my house," said Clagget of the earlier plan that would have forced him to sell 200 acres of his 270 acre property.
The new plan, which must still be approved by the Prince George's Planning Commission and the County Council, calls for the designation of 11 separate park units totaling 9,366 acres, all on land already owned by the planning commission or other government agencies. Additions to the park will be purchased from "willing sellers only," according to the proposal which would have the park grow slowly over time.
Environment concerns are high on the list of officials who are worried that development in the Balitmore-Annapolis-Washington corridor may eventually squeeze the life out of the river that once bustled with barges and boats in the tobacco trade of the 1700's. Ships drawing as much as a 100 tons once called at the thriving port of Queen Anne, just below Rte. 214. Today the river is barely navigable by canoe above that point.
In some places, experts say, the river can barely breathe because of erosion and siltation caused by poor farming techniques and suburbanization. Effluents from sewage treatment plants, especially in the Laurel and Bowie areas, have also taxed the capacity of the river. As a result, many upstream spawning grounds for white perch, pickerel, bass and croackers have been destroyed and the fishing is not what it was.
The earlier plan threatened the hold of some 175 landowners, mostly in the southern part of the county, on property that had been in their families for generations. Among them was the 270 acres of Peter Wood Duval Jr. who farms tobacco and soybeans on land that has been in his family since 1673.
The landowners formed the Southern Patuxent Concerned Citizens Organization in 1976 to fight for an laternative that would permit public parks at limited points while allowing land-owners to retain and pass on their property to their heirs.
In 1977, the board began to scale back its plan and named two landdowner-activists, Dent Downng of Nottingham and Diane McClary of Mitchellville, to the citizens advisory committee that supervised the drafting of the new master plan.
The new master plan provides for boating, hiking, camping and picnicking -- with limitations on the areas that can be used and strict control over the numbers of users.
Most of the activity will be confined to the 1,607-acre Jub Bay Natural Area, the largest of the 11 units of the park, reached by Croom Airport Road. It has been used for the last 10 years by groups and individuals for activities from hiking to managed hunting -- but by permit only.
There had been charges that the opposition to the order plan was based on the fear that large numbers of District of Columbia residents would be drawn to the park. Downing, president of the Southern Patuxent Concerned Citizens Organization, disagreed.
"It's not people form the District any more than it's people from Bethesda or Chevy Chase -- it's the intensive use that we opposed," he said.
"My organization and the people in the area are quite pleased with the plans as it stands now," he added.
Or as Clagget put it:
"It doesn't bother us none. The river is here for everybody, we just want to see it preserved."