Congressman Wayne Gilchrest
By Daniel White
Imagine for a moment that you’re a bird soaring over the Nassawango Creek watershed. Spread out beneath your wings would be an enormous expanse of virtually unbroken forest.
Among huge gums and maples, a smattering of bald cypress might catch your eye at the headwaters of two streams. You’re looking down on the Foster tract – the largest privately owned forest in Maryland. And now thanks to the persistence of The Nature Conservancy and its state and federal partners, this special place will be protected.
Your imaginary flight was solitary. But in reality, millions of songbirds congregate as they migrate through these Nassawango forests — habitat they depend on for food and shelter. That’s only part of the story here, however.
In unanimously approving the preservation of the 4,769-acre Foster property, the Maryland Board of Public Works, chaired by Governor Martin O’Malley, recognized the project as a sound investment that will produce ecologic, cultural and economic dividends far into the future.
“Today we took advantage of a historic opportunity to permanently protect a great natural treasure on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, one that offers boundless outdoor recreation and sustainable, green job opportunities,” said Gov. O’Malley in a statement released following the board’s January 7 decision.
“Protecting this invaluable wildlife habitat and pristine landscape is a legacy that Maryland’s families expect and deserve, and the wisest use of our Program Open Space funds,” added O’Malley.
The Nature Conservancy negotiated the deal — the organization’s largest-ever transaction in Maryland — and worked with state and federal partners to secure $14.4 million for the acquisition. For three decades, the Conservancy has been working with partners to connect a corridor of conservation lands along Nassawango Creek, which feeds into the Pocomoke River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
“The Foster property’s protection by the state, together with The Nature Conservancy's holdings at our Nassawango Creek Preserve, will create an expansive natural gem that future generations of Marylanders will be able to enjoy for years to come,” said Nat Williams, the Conservancy’s Maryland/DC director.
The land will be added to Maryland’s state-forest system, affording a host of public benefits:
At least five state-rare plant species inhabit the property, including the white-fringed orchid, which is threatened primarily by the loss of its natural bog habitat. Similarly, many deep-forest-dwelling birds that are losing habitat elsewhere will benefit from the Foster acquisition.
“Bald eagles soar and scarlet tanagers fly free amidst the loblolly pines, bald cypress and old oaks on this breathtaking property,” said Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, who helped secure federal funding for the acquisition. “One of the most precious legacies we can leave our children is a beautiful landscape that they can value as much as we do.”
Daniel White is a Nature Conservancy senior conservation writer based in Charlottesville, Virginia.