The battle over Chapman's Forest is still alive and well, despite the plan announced Friday by the Gov. Parris N. Glendening administration that would prohibit the ballfields and other recreational facilities that some Charles County officials wanted.
Local leaders said they will ask Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich (R) to review the plan, released by the state Department of Natural Resources. The plan restricts most human activity on Chapman's Forest, a 2,225-acre swath of preserved land along the Potomac River near Indian Head hailed by environmentalists as unmatched for its beauty.
The plan will turn 800 acres of the land under state control into a state park and make the remaining 1,380 acres a nature preserve named after Glendening (D), who leaves office Wednesday. But it would allow only low-impact recreation such as hiking, bird-watching, kayaking and perhaps horse riding.
Charles officials, along with some Indian Head and Bryans Road residents, say the area desperately needs playing fields and other recreational facilities. Other critics say the plan ignores the needs of Indian Head, which is restricted from expanding and cut off from Bryans Road because of the Chapman's land.
"I think they should go back now and challenge what has been decided and get some more public access to that land," said Edward W. Rice, an Indian Head Town Council member.
Del. Van T. Mitchell (D-Charles) said the plan was contrary to the wishes of a citizens task force charged with recommending uses for the land. Mitchell said there were five members of the eight-person task force who would vote for allowing some type of ballfields.
Ehrlich "is going to have to deal with the issue," Mitchell said. "The existing governor doesn't mean anything in regard to this process."
Natural Resources spokesman John Surrick said a new governor's administration may be able to change the land use of Chapman's Forest. "How they would do it would be unclear," he said.
In an interview, Natural Resources Secretary J. Charles Fox defended the Chapman's Forest plan.
When Glendening negotiated the purchase of Chapman's Forest in 1998 and stopped a proposed development on it, "the governor made it very clear . . . that its best use was for preservation and preserving historic values," Fox said. "From the get-go, the state's interest was very clear: Preserve this wonderful piece of property."
The plan would create Chapman's State Park on land north of Route 210. South of the highway would be the 1,380-acre Governor Parris N. Glendening Natural Environment Area, a heavily protected tract that would connect with the Mattawoman Natural Environment Area.
The plan also envisions a museum in an existing mansion at historic Mount Aventine; limited horse riding; a network of self-guided trails; an environmental education center; and a canoe and kayak launch.
Fox said he did propose a compromise with local leaders. He said he would have supported leasing some land to the county for playing fields, as long as they supported his effort to obtain an easement from the Maryland Board of Public Works that would have protected the rest of the land from development forever. The deal fell through before the state board's meeting Wednesday.
"I don't think the comfort level was there" for local officials, Mitchell said of the proposed compromise.
Bonnie Bick, a member of the task force that reviewed possible uses for Chapman's Forest and an opponent of playing fields on the land, criticized county leaders for rejecting the compromise and suggested they'll want more than playing fields when they speak to Ehrlich.
"They see this land as something that has to be developed, unfortunately," Bick said.