Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration yesterday rejected the pleas of Charles County leaders who wanted ballfields built on state-owned land in the county, announcing instead that the site will become a nature preserve -- named for Glendening, who will leave office Wednesday.
"This is not the appropriate area to have a restriction on land use," said Edward W. Rice, a member of the Indian Head Town Council and opponent of the nature preserve. "We would support going back . . . and trying to gain more public access to that property."
At issue is 2,180 acres of forestland in western Charles that the state bought in 1998. County officials had tried to persuade Maryland's Department of Natural Resources to set aside part of the land for recreational uses, but Glendening (D) opposed that idea.
"While there is clearly a need for more ballfields in western Charles County, the use of this property for ballfields would be inconsistent with the intent of the purchase, as well as our responsibility to protect the integrity of this forest ecosystem," said J. Charles Fox, the state's natural resources secretary.
But Del. Van T. Mitchell (D-Charles), who also wanted ballfields, said county officials will ask Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to reverse the decision once he takes office. "The existing governor doesn't mean anything in regard to the process," Mitchell said.
Fox announced yesterday that about 800 acres north of Route 210 will be converted into a Chapman's State Park, without ballfields, while the remaining 1,380 acres will become a nature preserve called the Governor Parris N. Glendening Natural Environment Area.
The use of the land has been debated since Glendening stopped a controversial housing development from being built there in 1998 and, along with environmentalists, negotiated the purchase by the state of the 2,180 acres for $28.5 million.
Five members of an eight-person citizen advisory panel formed in 2000 also urged ballfields at the site. But Fox said in an interview yesterday that Glendening had always wanted the land preserved.
The two sides almost reached a compromise this week when Fox promised that the county could build ballfields on a small swath of land near the highway. But the deal fell through Wednesday, and each side blamed the other.
The department yesterday also unveiled its long-term management plan for the site. It includes limited hunting, possible equestrian paths, hiking trails, a canoe and kayak launch, an environmental education center and a museum.
Fox said it was his decision to the name the natural environment area for Glendening. "I felt it was a fitting tribute to his work on this land in Charles County," he said.