Southern Maryland governments are to receive $4 million to help preserve more than 12,000 rural acres from development, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced Wednesday.

The Democrat said each of the region's counties would receive its second grant under the Rural Legacy program, which uses public money to preserve private land.

The funding is aimed at helping to preserve the ecologically crucial Zekiah Swamp Run watershed in Charles County; a cluster of scenic farms along the Patuxent River in St. Mary's County; and a band of territory stretching across the Calvert County peninsula.

The grants are part of $25 million in Rural Legacy spending in 20 areas around the state that Glendening announced Wednesday. A year earlier, Southern Maryland counties received $6 million as part of $29 million in Rural Legacy funding.

The program is part of Glendening's "Smart Growth" initiative that aims to discourage sprawl development. Most funding under the program is spent to buy development rights from landowners who retain title to their tracts, although some Rural Legacy money may be used for outright purchases.

The program is envisioned to last at least five years, providing $70 million to $140 million in funding to preserve the best of Maryland's forests, open spaces and fields. It concentrates on areas where there are large, contiguous tracts of undeveloped land.

"With today's additions our Rural Legacy [program] has saved 26,200 acres of Maryland's most treasured land in just two years," Glendening said. "We will continue to strengthen our partnerships with local governments and communities and ensure a lasting legacy of green infrastructure and open spaces."

Officials in Southern Maryland, where open space is under acute pressure from rapid population growth and the resulting housing subdivisions, expressed gratification at the awards.

"Definitely what we wanted," said Greg Bowen, deputy director of planning and zoning for Calvert County. "We're real pleased the governor and [Rural Legacy officials] recognized this project."

Calvert County, which is to receive $2 million, was the only Southern Maryland county to see its Rural Legacy area expand. Such areas are zones where money from the program may be spent.

Last year the state recognized 2,700 acres along the lower reaches of the Battle Creek near the Patuxent River. This year it expanded the area by nearly 6,000 acres to 8,500 acres by taking in Battle Creek's upper reaches and the Parkers Creek watershed. The resulting area stretches from the Patuxent to the Chesapeake Bay just south of Prince Frederick.

A combination of public and private programs already has preserved nearly half the acreage involved, and Rural Legacy funding should allow officials to complete the preservation project within three years, Bowen said.

Charles County, which received $1.5 million last year, was awarded $500,000 on Wednesday. Officials want to preserve tracts totaling 2,100 acres in and near the Zekiah Swamp, which drains the center of the county.

St. Mary's County received $1.5 million on Wednesday. A year ago it received $3 million. Its funding is to protect several venerable farms in the Huntersville area, including the 960-acre Cremona farm and the 562-acre old Parlett farm.