County Comment: Governor Announces Preservation of 828 Acres Near Battlefield

County Comment
Governor Announces Preservation of 828 Acres Near Battlefield
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

On Monday, October 24, Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich announced funding from state and federal programs that will preserve 828 acres of historic farmland near St. James School and along Maryland Route 65.
Ehrlich, along with St. James Headmaster Reverend Stuart Dunnan, Jim Lighthizer, President of the Maryland Civil War Preservation Trust, state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Ron Franks, Aris Melissarotos, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development,and a host of local and state officials, placed that farmland into permanent preservation.
The Rural Legacy Program, administered in Washington County by the Department of Planning and Community Development, used $3.3 million from federal transportation funds, Washington County agricultural preservation funds and state preservation funds to purchase permanent easements on the 672 acres adjacent to the school, and the 155-acre Alexander Farm on Sharpsburg Pike in order to prevent future development. The land is contiguous with the current Mid-Maryland Rural Legacy area, which encompasses land surrounding Antietam National Battlefield.
Considerable Civil War activity occurred on the farms surrounding St. James School and along MD 65 before and after Antietam. Growth in Washington County has moved closer to the school, with many new homes and a strip mall being built. That sprawl has been a primary reason behind the school's purchase of nearby lands and entering into the easement program.
"We are very concerned as a boarding school with students from 22 different states and from 12 different countries to preserve our setting and remain as a resource as a national institution in this County for Maryland," Headmaster Dunnan said.
"The time has come to look to our first purposes, to restore the endowment and to take care of our mission. So we turned first of all to the County and we had great support there, and to the state...I think that the support we have from this Governor, his interest in this county has made an immeasurable difference as we see today," Dunnan said.
Dunnan commended County Agricultural Planner Eric Seifarth for his work to help preserve the lands, and the County Commissioners for being what Dunnan called a "key to this formula and very attentive to this purpose."
Governor Ehrlich said that a goal of the state preservation program is to keep rural Maryland from becoming "Anywhere USA".
"In preserving this 800 acres in conjunction with what has been preserved and what will be preserved, we're preserving Maryland the way it was, and the way it always will be, and that has tremnendous value, not just to tourists but to the citizens that live around here and to future generations, because this will always look like this. In this day and age of change and encroaching suburbia -Anywhere USA-that's special and it's unique," Ehrlich said.
"That stands alone--the importance of historic preservation, not just battlefields but including battlefields--that stands alone. And then you add it to...ten billion dollars worth of tourism in the state of Maryland and 125,000 jobs, an absolutely essential part of our economy. And when you combine history and tourism it doesn't get better than that," the Governor said.
Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust and a former Maryland Secretary of Transportation, said that the acreage in these two parcels constitute about one-fifth of all the land that has been preserved around Antietam Battlefield.
"We have preserved more land around the Antietam National Battlefield...than is actually in the National Park Service boundaries. There is no battlefield in America, Civil War battlefield, that has that kind of protection," Lighthizer said.
$1.6 million of the funding comes from the Transportation Enhancement Program via the Maryland State Highway Administration. Those funds come from the Federal Surface Transportation Program that provides money for non-traditional transportation projects in local communities including historic preservation.