Arundel open space group marks 50th property in conservation

Along Lyons Creek in southern Anne Arundel County are woods that offer perfect places for migratory songbirds to hide their young, native trees that provide a fruit buffet for critters, and marshes where ducks scour for snacks.

One tract in the area recently took on added significance. When Pat Melville placed her land into a program to ensure that no development can occur on it, she created a milestone for a local nonprofit organization.

Her 53 acres became the 50th property placed into a conservation agreement with the Scenic Rivers Land Trust, which is holding the easement jointly with the Maryland Environmental Trust. Under the program, she owns the land and can sell it, but it must remain open space.

"I was interested in preserving the property as it is," said Melville, a retired archivist who bands small birds under a federal program and tracks how many return to her property year after year.

The agreement means the property will remain a home in the country, where water edges the land, with about 20 acres that her late husband farmed as a hobby. The property is alive with birds, she said, including hawks that soar above and warblers in the woods, along with skunks, foxes and raccoons, lots of deer, and turtles splashing into the water. There's no threatened or endangered wildlife or plant life here.

The agreement is a milestone for Scenic Rivers Land Trust — not just because a property that could have been subdivided for several homes for people will remain home to wildlife.

"It's significant for a number of reasons. First, it makes us feel good. And we can tell donors that all this hustling we've done for several years has resulted in a significant amount of easements and protecting habitats in Anne Arundel County," said Rick Leader, executive director of the trust.

It also is a substantial achievement for an organization that is approaching its 25th year

"It shows we have significant experience doing this," he said.

That is a confidence-builder for property owners considering easements, which come with tax benefits, Leader said.

"This is just the first 50," said Leader.

Melville's property in Lothian isn't unusual. But its conservation value is in helping to preserve the high-quality watershed of the Patuxent River, in its wetlands and in the forest. The site includes a deep forest that attracts certain birds. Migratory birds, such as pewees, tanagers and thrushes, prefer areas of woods away from the forest edge.

Melville's home is near about 1,600 acres protected from development, including the Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary, which makes it more attractive to wildlife, Leader said.

The trusts also hold an easement on the county-owned Bacon Ridge Natural Area — more than 600 acres of streams, wetlands and woods that are now county property but used to be part of Crownsville Hospital Center.

The seventh annual group of tours of that area run by the Scenic River Land Trust celebrates the land trust's 50th easement. They are planned April 14.

Guided walks (registration is recommended) will start between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., though visitors can also go on their own. The walks include bird walks, a reptile and amphibian hike, and more. Visitors can reach the area by entering the Crownsville Hospital Center property on Route 178.

In addition, Janice Hayes-Williams will offer "remembrance tours" between 9 a.m. and noon at the adjacent Crownsville Hospital Center cemetery.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Scenic River Land Trust tours

To reach the Bacon Ridge area, turn from Route 178 onto Crownsville Road. Here are the times of the guided walks scheduled for April 14: