Charles County should encourage waterfront development in the Indian Head area and six other stretches along its shorelines, an advisory committee told county commissioners Tuesday.

The committee said Chapman's Forest, a large tract along the Potomac River that the state bought for preservation last year, should be considered as a site for a conference center, golf course, museum or bed-and-breakfast.

Those working to preserve Chapman's Forest signaled they would oppose proposals to develop parts of the 2,225-acre tract that once had been planned as a massive residential development.

The elected commissioners made no immediate decisions. They said they would meet with the Economic Development Commission to further explore shoreline development and indicated they would hold public meetings to discuss options.

The recommendation came from the Charles County Waterfront Development Task Force, a 22-member panel the commissioners appointed to identify opportunities for economic development along the county's 183 miles of tidal shoreline.

The county is bordered by two major rivers--the Patuxent and the Potomac--and has scores of inlets and creeks. However, farms, forests and swamps occupy most of the shoreline, and the few existing riverfront settlements are small and sleepy.

The task force emphasized potential projects that are near substantial roads, in areas served with water and sewer lines, and that are located in the development district, said Thomas Flynn, an Annapolis consultant who helped put together the 69-page report.

"It's too much to think you can develop all" of the county's shoreline, Flynn said.

Commissioners said government would act mainly as a catalyst for private investment, rather than attempt to build and run major facilities itself.

The task force issued what it called four key findings.

Its leading recommendation was that the county pursue development of a waterfront resort and conference center. It said such a project could help define the county as a place with a "waterfront image."

As possible locations for such a center, the task force pointed to Indian Head, the nearby Chapman's Forest property or Swan Point in southern Charles County.

It issued a separate recommendation calling for waterfront development in Indian Head. The town holds about 130 acres of vacant waterfront land, the task force said, citing "opportunities for its unique small-town character to be redefined and reinforced."

The task force also said the county should expand lodging and recreation opportunities along the waterfront and should discuss what type of development should be encouraged in which areas.

In some cases, Flynn said, "People were unable, or unwilling, to even speak about these things."

The most sensitive issues surrounding waterfront development concern the fate of the Chapman's tract. It had been slated to become a large housing development until Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) spent more than $25 million to purchase most of the parcel. A private conservation group completed the purchase late last year.

Glendening has called for the formation of a panel to advise the state on how to use the land. In an August letter, Glendening said the property "should be managed in a manner that places a special emphasis on its natural significance."

Members of the waterfront task force said they had made no decisions on whether to use Chapman's tract.

"Explore it. Explore it," said Tony Redmon, a consultant who worked with the task force. "The point being made is, some use could be made of some very small portion of the property."

The task force said development of the tract could be limited to 20 percent of its area.

Such a limitation appears unlikely to mollify opponents.

"I just think it's a bad idea," said Alex Winter, a Bryans Road resident active in the campaign to preserve Chapman's Forest.

"The reason the people of Maryland paid nearly $13,000 an acre [for the tract] was not so Charles County could have a golf course there, and not for any commercial development," Winter said. "It was to preserve this land for biodiversity and the integrity of the historical and archaeological resources."

The seven areas the task force identified for possible development were the area stretching from the Prince George's border to Indian Head; the Sweden Point area of Mattawoman Creek; the area including the sunken ship haven Mallows Bay in Nanjemoy; the Port Tobacco River; the area where U.S. Route 301 crosses the Potomac River; the area stretching from Swan Point through Cobb Island along the Potomac; and the village of Benedict on the Patuxent River.