An Autumn Stroll at Bohemia River State Park
This fall, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy hosted four different walks around the Eastern Shore as a celebration of Walktober, Maryland’s month-long spotlight on pedestrian safety, health, and commuting options. Attendees enjoyed fresh air, autumn foliage, and an inside look into our local land conservation and land use and policy work. The final walk of the month was led by state park ranger, Lesley Leader, and ESLC’s director of land conservation, David Satterfield, at Cecil County’s new Bohemia River State Park.
Strolling through this new state park is an excellent way of seeing and experiencing how ESLC’s conservation work benefits the public. While many of ESLC’s projects focus on private land conservation through easements (which do provide public benefit through agricultural production, habitat connectivity, environmental stewardship, sustainability, and scenic views), it’s true that many of these private properties do not provide the community public access to nature. One way ESLC’s land conservation work does help to provide public access is through land transfer projects like Bohemia River State Park.
When Chesapeake City’s 460-acre OBX Farm came up for sale, ESLC was able to purchase the property more quickly than the Department of Natural Resources could due to logistical constraints. This allowed DNR the time to arrange for the purchase of the property through funding from Program Open Space, which preserves natural areas for public recreation, and watershed and wildlife protection across Maryland. ESLC transferred OBX Farm to Maryland DNR in 2017, and the once-private property transformed last year into the publicly accessible Bohemia River State Park. Land transfers like this are a great illustration of how community giving directly benefits the givers. Without the support and donations of individuals and businesses, ESLC wouldn’t have the operating funds necessary to assist in such enormous purchases and transfers that provide outdoor opportunities and water access to locals and visitors alike.
“In order to achieve ESLC’s mission to conserve, steward and advocate for the unique rural character of the region,” Satterfield explains, “a full suite of options need to be available to meet the unique challenges of the landowners ESLC serves.” Conservation easements, fee simple transfers (land transfers), habitat restoration, and political advocacy have all become strong mechanisms to achieving ESLC’s conservation goals. Land transfers are unique in that they “provide similar protection to the conservation easements but also allow community members to experience and understand the work that ESLC does.” Nearly a sixth of the total land conserved by ESLC, about 9,600 acres, was protected through “fee simple land transfers” like the one that created Bohemia River State Park. Other notable projects include the 1,172-acre Ben Lee Farm which has now become DNR’s Brown’s Branch Wildlife Management Area. The property includes 600 acres of land that is tilled by a local farmer, as well as the headwaters of Brown’s Branch, which are especially important as spawn habitat for Dwarf Wedge Mussel and Brooke Lamprey, both state or federally listed endangered species. Black Bottom Farm, transferred from ESLC to DNR in 2021, now protects the state-endangered tiger salamander within the Millington Wildlife Management Area. And the 242-acre Missionary Servants property near Earleville is now part of DNR’s Grove Farm Wildlife Management Area, whose well-built road will hopefully be used in the future to provide accessible hunting access to hunters with disabilities.
Today OBX Farm is part working farmland, part public state park, providing abundant opportunities for recreation, from hiking and biking to fishing, kayaking, and hunting. The diverse landscape of meadows, farm fields, 14,000 feet of riverfront, historic barns, forests, wetlands, nature trails, and habitat restoration projects makes for a fun and engaging place to rejuvenate and explore. The property’s rich network of riparian forests and tidal and non-tidal wetlands provide both habitat restoration and water quality benefits for an abundance of species from pickerelweed and black gum trees to over 32 species of birds.
About 20 people gathered for ESLC’s Walktober walk in October. After hearing from David and Lesley, the group explored the Oak Point Trail and Watercress Trail, meandering from meadow to thick woodlands and eventually down to Burkalow Creek and Great Bohemia Creek. They stopped time to time to admire a trail horse coming around a bend, a massive tulip poplar tree, and native orchids. Lesley stopped to point out invasive species, a recent tree planting, and the park’s future plans for hedgerow restoration, grassland habitat, and improved waterfront access and facilities.
ESLC hopes that increasing access to the rural landscape inspires the community to support continued conservation of this spectacular region. Please stay tuned to ESLC’s newsletter and social media in 2024 to learn more about a new exciting land transfer project that both DNR and ESLC are excited to share with the public.