About half of the 58,000 acres of Eastern Shore land that the state is trying to acquire for preservation would be open to the public for hunting, hiking and other recreational activities.
The other half would be designated as a state forest, which will allow the Department of Natural Resources to manage the timber for harvest, according to state officials.
Figuring out how to use hundreds of parcels scattered across five Eastern Shore counties--Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset--is one of the chief challenges state officials face as they wrap up negotiations on what would be the state's largest purchase of land ever.
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has proposed that the state split the $33 million cost of buying the parcels with the Richard King Mellon Foundation, a private charitable organization. Each would spend $16.5 million to buy 29,000 acres, and the foundation eventually would turn over its parcels to the state to manage.
Once the deal is completed, the public will be involved in an extensive planning process to decide how the parcels will be used, said Michael Nelson, director of land and water conservation for the state Department of Natural Resources.
"There will be a very sophisticated planning exercise that will unfold," Nelson said. "These lands will mean many things to many constituents. It's our job to balance those needs."
Maryland would buy the land from Chesapeake Forest Products Co., which is selling its timber business. Since 1969, the state has purchased 189,000 acres throughout Maryland as part of its Program Open Space.
The negotiations, which are being brokered by the Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization, were delayed again last week. The deal is now expected to be finalized by Sept. 10, according to Michael Morrill, Glendening's director of communications. He attributed the delay to the amount of work involved in researching 673 land titles that make up the purchase area.
"It was so complex that they just didn't get it done," Morrill said. "The deal is still on."
The 58,000 acres are adjacent to more than 20 areas now managed by the state. Those areas include state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas. In those cases, the new public land will be adjoined to the existing managed areas.
Statewide, the agency manages 91,369 acres of parks, 136,000 acres of forest and 106,000 acres of wildlife management areas.
William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said much of the Eastern Shore property has been actively forested but is still in good shape.
He said the land is extremely valuable because it includes wetlands and forests.
"Forested wetlands are some of the most valuable and rare natural resources in the bay," he said. "It is highly important to maintain some of what has been lost."
Baker added: "It will be a good opportunity for people to see what the bay region looked like at one time and what more of it could look like if it is preserved. In this shopping-mall generation, having lands available for the public is all that much more important."