Volunteer Spotlight: Roger Bollman
Originally from Towson, Maryland, Roger Bollman has volunteered for Eastern Shore Land Conservancy for 13 years, helping to monitor roughly 8,678 acres with his good friend Jack Moore. A lover of history and conservation, Bollman remembers first traveling to the shore by ferry. He has now lived in Easton since 1999. Bollman’s extensive volunteer experience includes the Easton Historic District Commission, the Talbot Historical Society (which occasionally includes him leading historic tours through town), the County Public Works Advisory Board, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the Easton Tree Board, and ShoreRivers. This year, we sat down to discuss volunteering, history, and land conservation on the Eastern Shore.
Tell us how you began volunteering with ESLC.
I started volunteering I think in 2010. Jack Moore has been my partner the whole time. There was a class Megan D’Arcy was having to train new land stewards. Jack asked me if I wanted to come along and I did. Megan took us to a Queen Anne’s County estate, showed us all about how to do land monitoring. Of course, in a sense, the technology has changed. Particularly with cell phones. We used to take photographs on our cameras and have to then download them. Jack and I were particularly interested in looking at old estates and properties—just to see them. And this was one of the ways that you could achieve that end and also perform a service. We saw a fair amount of old estates. In the old days we used to get a folder with the previous visits and what they had found. Now it’s more or less streamlined on your cell phone. You can enter all the field information and there’s easement documentation already there. And then you use your cell phone to take photographs and put them right into the program notes so the advance of technology has been very convenient.
What was it like monitoring with Jack?
Jack being retired also, he and I used to try and set up three visits all on the same day. And let’s say we tried to do two in the morning. We’d have a nice lunch somewhere then we’d do the other one and then we’d go to the coffee shop and make sure everything was filled out properly and in the days of handwriting you’d handwrite the field data in. Nowadays you put it all on your cell phone. In a sense it was sort of a social thing as well as fulfilling, seeing a lot of old properties and at the same time performing a service for the conservancy. We made a day of it. We’d probably maybe do as many as six. Ideally three one day and three some other day. It didn’t necessarily work out that way though. Depended on how close the properties were and our ability to schedule them.
What do you find special about ESLC’s work?
Well, I’m very much interested in land preservation. And so, the work you do is right along the lines of my interests. I personally have a big problem with development. Not development so much but sprawl and development that doesn’t serve the interests of the public, of which we have some recent local examples.
Why do you find preservation important for the Eastern Shore specifically? And what do you love most about the Eastern Shore as a place?
We moved here from Towson outside of Baltimore about 23 years ago. And I was in no way involved in historical preservation. But I’ve always had an interest in it. So, when we were looking around for let’s say the ideal small town—which Towson and the environments of Baltimore had ceased to be—the Eastern Shore still has that character. We had zeroed in on Easton and Chestertown and we wound up in Easton. Easton still has the small-town feel. Talbot County is a small county. In a way you know people. The same in Easton. I live right up the road here on Hanson Street. And I could and did walk downtown. You name it—the library, the grocery store, post office, or whatever, and so I really like the small-town feel. And we weren’t overwhelmed by development and commercial interests.
In what other ways have you explored your interest in history here on the Shore?
I was a bike rider and I rode all around Talbot County and to some extent other counties. I would ride the bike along and if I passed what looked like a historic estate, I would try to check them out. The properties would have “T numbers.” So if you had passed by a historic house or estate you could look in this book, Where Land and Water Intertwine, and it may have been assigned that t number by the state and given a description. That’s an ongoing program. This isn’t exactly your mission but my interest fit with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
If you were visiting from Towson and I wanted to show you Talbot County, I’d probably go down to Oxford. I probably would drive through the Trappe district to see the Jamaica Point mansion. That’s one of the few big places you can see from the road. Lots of other ones you have to see from the water.
What inspired you to volunteer?
If you’re a young person you’re involved in raising a family and making a living and you do not necessarily have time for land preservation interest or historic interest or even environmental interest. I say that unless it’s your work. Once you’re a young retiree all of a sudden you have time on your hands to pursue those interests—which would have been the case with me. Or Jack Moore. So, I was also a volunteer with ShoreRivers and Jack and I were water monitors. And I did that from before there was a ShoreRivers. There was an organization called TRPA (Talbot River Protection Association). They started Creekwatchers. I started sampling the water in 1999. That program with volunteers ceased with COVID. Their staff is now doing the monitoring.
Other than conservation, how do we make sure we preserve the Eastern Shore’s small-town character?
Zoning laws. They need to make sure any development complies with the zoning. Politicians really have to be invested in protecting the land. That’s one of the tests I always use when voting—how a politician running for office looks at protection of our rural character. Having come from the western shore and suburbia I’m well aware of the way population pressures have just swallowed up small towns. I don’t know how that could have been prevented because the population’s going to grow. People have to have a place to live and shop so… I’m not saying it could have been prevented but it’s sad to see. We have the advantage in that the Eastern Shore is, in a sense, remote from the western shore. And so, we haven’t felt population growth pressures to the same extent. When the Bay Bridge, I’m told, opened up, there was development over here. That was in 1952. And sadly, I’m old enough to remember riding across the bay on the ferry before the bridge. Kent Island was rural then. And nowadays, at least the part of Kent Island that I’m familiar with is in no way rural. Then the second bay bridge opened up. Now the third bay bridge is being talked about.
If you could see 100 years from now into 2123, what would you hope for, or imagine, for the Eastern Shore?
Well, I would hope that you guys would have locked down most of the land, the undeveloped land. I would hope that our politicians would have uniformly recognized the need to retain the characteristics of the Eastern Shore and the towns within it. I think probably things like working at home and the increase of technology will vastly change the landscape. Just taking working from home… if you can truly do that, it would mean you can live over here in Oxford and your home office is in Atlanta—wouldn’t matter. I think transportation has got to change. How, I don’t know. But it would appear to me that continued reliance on the automobile, at least big automobiles, is something you can’t continue to do. Having said that I don’t think mass transit is the way to go for the Eastern Shore. I think it just won’t work. Smaller cars, maybe?