BERLIN — The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has conserved a large, forested wetlands property along a half-mile of Ayers Creek, the conservation group, Worcester County, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced this week.
The property is within the 4,000-acre Holly Grove Swamp area and will be the first large wooded area available for public access in northern Worcester County and a priority for local conservation efforts.
The eastern portion of the 442-acre property in Berlin fronts Ayers Creek, which enters north of the property as a small stream but quickly widens into a tidally-influenced, brackish waterway that flows into the upper reaches of Chincoteague Bay.
Protecting natural resources in the Holly Grove Swamp area, a contiguous block of coastal plain forest, has been a priority for Worcester County and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. The Chesapeake office of TPL, a national conservation organization, which has been working to conserve the property since 2008, negotiated the purchase of the property and facilitated its conveyance to Worcester County. The County will work with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program to restore forests and wetlands on the property. The County and Maryland Coastal Bays Program are also planning a kayak and canoe launch on the eastern shore of Ayers Creek for a proposed watertrail system.
"Worcester County is pleased to participate in this acquisition as it will offer new recreational experiences for residents and visitors, as well as help preserve the natural beauty and water quality of Ayers Creek," said County Commission President Bud Church.
TPL Chesapeake Program Director Kent Whitehead added, "Holly Grove, Ayers Creek, and the waterways of the coastal bays are remarkable natural and recreational resources."
Funding for the $1.875 million purchase included $1.375 million awarded from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) and $500,000 awarded by Maryland’s Program Open Space, as recommended by the Maryland Board of Public Works.
Because of its ecological significance, the property ranked third in the nation under the competitive CELCP program. U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for CELCP, and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin support the program.
"Since 2002, Congress has provided NOAA with more than $230 million to conserve coastal and estuarine areas across the country," said Mikulski. "This funding has led to more than 120 projects over the years that not only protect valuable wetlands but also provide public access. Ayers Creek is one of Maryland’s natural treasures. That’s why I’m proud NOAA chose to help preserve this unique area as part of its national competition."
Chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Cardin added, "Protecting this Ayers Creek property will protect an important landscape, help the water quality of our coastal bays, and serve as important habitat for numerous species of plants and animals. The acquisition of this property through federal, state and private funding will provide public access to a landscape that is essential to the health of our natural world and a part of the county’s rural character."
The property is in a critically important area for preserving the water quality of Maryland’s coastal bays and serves as an important habitat for dozens of reptile, amphibian and neotropical migrant bird species. It is also one of the few sites in the area where the red-bellied water snake has been observed.
"This acquisition shows the great work that can happen when Federal, State, county and non-profit groups work together," said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. "Projects like Ayers Creek illustrate the State’s commitment to providing opportunities for public recreation and ecological education. This land will not only be available for all Marylanders, but will help preserve a quality of life for generations to come."
Immediately to the south of the Ayers Creek property is Golden Quarter Farm, which TPL worked with Worcester County to conserve in 2005 with an easement. It was the first CELCP-funded project in Maryland and also includes a mile of Ayers Creek frontage.
"We’ve worked very hard to connect partners to preserve land on Assateague and Sinepuxent roads. This area boasts some of the most important lands for wildlife and water quality in the coastal bays watershed," David Wilson, Maryland Coastal Bays Program director.