Maryland is moving to acquire a 262-acre Montgomery County farm that the state fears may be turned into a housing subdivision.
The farm, adjacent to the C&O Canal and fronting on River Road south of Poolesville, is located between Seneca State Park and the McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area. The farm is considered a buffer to the historic canal and a crucial link between the willdlife area and the state park.
The state Senate last week approved a bill to purchase the farm with $967,580 reallocated from Maryland's Program Open Space, funded primarily from the state transfer tax on property. The money to purchase the farm would be reallocated from open space projects that had not used funds previously allocated by the legislature. State House committee hearings on the bill are scheduled to begin today.
If the bill is approved, it would be "only the second time in the 11-year history of the state's open space program that funds from other projects will be reallocated to a single-priority project," according to state Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Mont.). (The legislature approved the first such reallocation in the early 1970s as an emergency measure to prevent development of Wye Island in Queen Anne's County across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis. The state spent $5.6 million to buy almost 2,500 acres on the island, most of which is now in state hands.)
Levitan said in a press release announcing the state action on the funding bill that "as in the Wye Island situation, if the state does not move quickly," the opportunity to acquire the missing link between the two park areas could be lost permanently.
"This is prime land for a subdivision in an area of very expensive homes with large acreage . . . It's in a crucial location," according to Offutt Johnson, chief of grants for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The farm has been included within the proposed boundaries of the McKee Beshers wildlife area since 1951 when the state began acquiring the more than 1,500 of the 1,960 acres it now holds in the designated wildlife area.
McKee Beshers is perhaps best known for its song birds. At least 205 different species have been identified in the wildlife area, according to state officials.
It also is popular as a public hunting ground, as is an adjacent 1,200-acre portion of Seneca State Park. Deer, squirrels, wild turkey and waterfowl, including many varities of duck, are the main hunting attractions, say state game officials. One benefit of public ownership of the farm, they say, would be that hunters could cross between the two areas. "Now they must get in their cars and go around the farm," one game official said.
The River Road farm, once known as Winslow farm, has been owned since the 1950s by the Eugene B. Casey family, one of the county's larger landowners.
Eugene S. Casey, a son of Eugene B. Casey, last week said the state originally had proposed purchasing the farm from the family several years ago but negotiations fell through. The Caseys had wanted to keep part of the property fronting on River Road but state officials had said they wanted the whole farm, said Casey.
Last fall a state official told him a new appraisal was being made and that an offer would follow, Casey said.
"I never heard from him," Casey said. "We have no plans at the moment to develop the land, although like much of Montgomery County, it could be considered developable."
Members of the Casey family have farmed the land since they purchased it, as they have much of the other 6,000 acres they own in the county, largely in the Poolesville area, Casey said.
If the Caseys are not willing to sell, the state will go to court to acquire the property by condemnation, according to Johnson.Condemnation is used by government agencies when land is needed for public purposes but the owner declines to sell voluntarily.