For the Tiedemann brothers, Gregory, 6, and Christopher, 9, the former cornfields of the Fairland community off Route 29 in Montgomery County are a countryside playground.
Nesting grounds for rabbits, squirrels and other small animals abound in the wooded fields near the youngsters' home on Sturtevant Road. Christopher Tiedemann said he has caught several nonpoisonous snakes slithering around the tree-lined neighborhood between White Oak and Burtonsville.
A short walking distance from the boys' home is the Maydale Park and Nature Center. And, thanks to a recent community campaign, the boys can check out stacks of adventure books at a temporary storefront library.
The rustic charm and slower pace of life in Fairland attracted the Tiedemann family to the area five years ago, said the boys' mother, Susan Meyers.
At the time, the family was living in close-in Takoma Park, Meyers said. But she said she and her husband, Don Tiedemann, a computer consultant, "wanted a bigger piece of land."
After house-hunting for a while, Meyers said the couple realized "they could get more bang for their bucks" in the Fairland community. They bought a brick rambler on a half-acre lot for about $120,000, she said.
Meyers still marvels at the rural ambience in one of the fastest-growing areas in Montgomery County.
"Last night, the crickets were pretty noisy," she said. "There are frogs on our doorstep. We see tractors and horseback riders on Briggs Chaney Road."
The loosely defined Fairland area is beginning to establish an identity of its own, said Meyers. The temporary branch library at the Burtonsville shopping center was one of the first steps, she said.
"There isn't a real focal point for the area," said Meyers. "There is no type of meeting facility for the community."
Led by longtime community activist Elizabeth Matthews, a group of residents gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking the County Council to build a community library in Fairland, said Meyers, a member of the Fairland Library Advisory Committee.
This spring, the storefront library opened. In two years, a permanent library is planned at the corner of Briggs Chaney and Old Columbia roads, Meyers said.
The storefront library has been a big draw for neighborhood children this summer, Meyers said. "I like their books," said second-grader Gregory Tiedemann. Though small, the library has offered puppet shows and Saturday movies for children on sweltering days, Meyers said.
The scheduled 1992 opening of a new elementary school to replace the crowded facility on Old Columbia Road also will help bring the community closer together, said Fairland Elementary School principal Thomas Poore.
The new school will be on a 12-acre parcel on Fairdale Drive and Briggs Chaney Road. An old one-room schoolhouse on Fairland Road that was used for 50 years recently was restored.
In recent years, more people have discovered Fairland's bucolic lifestyle, residents said. Longtime family farms are vanishing, replaced with town house and single-family home subdivisions occupied by young families.
The community's strategic location between the District and Baltimore is an additional benefit for commuters.
Meyers said she and her husband, a Baltimore native, "really thought we were in the sticks" when they moved to Fairland in 1985.
Because of the large number of two-income households in the neighborhood, Meyers said she jokingly told friends, "If I died before 6 p.m., no one would know about it."
That's unlikely to happen today though. "It has gone from 'The Waltons' to 'L.A. Law,' " said Pat Weaver, a secretary at Fairland Elementary School who was raised in the community and continues to live there.
In the past quarter-century, Weaver said, the area has been transformed from country to urban. "When I grew up, there were cow pastures and a lot of redneck kids," Weaver said.
Like many of the area's old-line families, Weaver said she and her siblings remained in Fairland because "it's a nice atmosphere."
The growing popularity and the affordability of Fairland is evident in the brisk residential real estate market, residents said. While some of the brick homes date back 25 years or more, new houses and apartments also are sprouting up.
Prices for new single-family homes are in the low $200,000s, said Meyers. Town houses and condominiums often sell for about $160,000, she said. There also is a small pocket of custom-built homes selling for up to $500,000, residents said.
"Houses on the market move pretty quickly if the price is right," said Meyers.
Still, there apparently is a lot of stability in Fairland as well. In the past five years, Meyers said only seven to 10 homes have been sold in scattered subdivisions close to her house.
The growth in the Fairland area has brought in a wave of diversity, Poore said. About 45 percent of the elementary school population is made up of minority children, he said. "It's a phenomenal international community," he said.
There also is a broad religious community in Fairland, from Moslems to Buddhists, as well as traditional Protestant, Jewish and Catholic congregations, Meyers said.
So far, residents said Fairland's growth spurt has been manageable, but they want to retain the area's rural flavor.
"We need to keep the green space," said Matthews, a 13-year resident. "I wouldn't like to see the Route 29 corridor lined with houses, houses and houses."
Historic sites, such as the one-lane bridge on Peach Orchard Road, should be maintained, Meyers said.
"It's nice to have trash service and a library, but there's no need to do away with the one-lane bridge," she said. "It's neat to have to stop and wave to another driver to get across."