by Matt Bucchin
Tucked away in the
southwestern part of the state lies Charles County, a rural place that has
always respected and honored its past and its people. A natural paradise, it is
home to first-class fishing, spectacular populations of nesting great blue
herons, thousands of acres of beautiful forestland, over a hundred miles of
magnificent shoreline and numerous historical sites, all on this still wild side
of the Potomac.
However, its location, less than an hour from
Washington D.C. and Annapolis, makes this a much-sought after area for a growing
commuter population and the ills that naturally accompany expanding suburbia. In
2000, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its partners
stepped in to ensure that one particularly vulnerable resource-rich area is
protected and its history, wildlife and natural beauty are forever preserved.
Partners in Protection
In September 2005, DNR and the U.S. Department of the Interior-Bureau of Land
Management-Eastern States (BLM) approved a long-term land management plan for
the Nanjemoy Natural Resources Management Area (NRMA) that provides essential
guidance for the sustainable protection and use of approximately 1,900 acres of
public land in Charles County.
Approval of the management plan
culminates five years of planning and collaboration among multiple levels of
government and non-governmental entities and the public. It is a prime example
of how federal, state and local agencies can work in partnership with non-profit
trusts, the private sector and the public, and leverage diminishing money and
resources to secure a natural legacy that will last in perpetuity.
Nanjemoy NRMA is situated along the tidal Potomac River on the Nanjemoy
peninsula. The majority of the property straddles Maryland Route 224 and has
been labeled one of the most ecologically and culturally
remaining in Maryland, as it protects 1.2 miles of relatively undisturbed
shoreline. The waterfront portion of the property is entirely within the state’s
Critical Area and provides refuge for migratory waterfowl and wading birds. It
also contains an extensive network of tidal and non-tidal wetlands and secluded
bays that protect bay grasses, which in turn clean the Bay and provide habitat
for numerous fish and invertebrate species.
The area is also
almost completely forested, comprised of mixed hardwoods such as white oak and
red maple, which extends off-site into the Nanjemoy Creek watershed. As a whole,
it provides contiguous forest that certain sensitive wildlife species require
and has been designated by The Nature Conservancy as high quality habitat for
Forest Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS). There are a few small areas that were
cleared as recently as 10 to 20 years ago; these have begun to regenerate with
early successional species such as loblolly pine.
diverse area provides protection for several rare, threatened and endangered
species. In 2003, DNR’s Natural Heritage Program identified at least two active
bald eagle nests on the property. The worm-eating warbler, believed to be the
state’s most area-sensitive species, has also confirmed to be breeding on site.
Nanjemoy NRMA’s cultural and archeological resources are equally as
Archeologists have found traces of prehistoric Native American cultures dating
back 12,000 years. These artifacts offer rare insight into indigenous cultures
prior to European settlement.
More recently, the area figured
predominantly in colonial history, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and
World War I. During the Civil War, Union General Joseph Hooker had extensive
operations around Liverpool Point, Douglas Point, and the Mallows Bay area.
During World War I, a plan called for the building and launching of 1,000 wooden
steamships to carry troops and cargo to Europe; however, by the end of the war,
not one had made the crossing. Years later, at least 88 of the wooden steamships
were sunk at Mallows Bay and in the decades since, have become an integral part
of the natural ecosystem as artificial reefs. Today, Mallows Bay is recognized
as the largest sunken wooden ship graveyard in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2005, the BLM and the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR)
in Williamsburg, Virginia, performed an archeological investigation of an
18th-century farmstead located within the NRMA. The Chiles Homesite was
determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Due to the breadth and diversity of this area’s natural and cultural resources,
it’s no wonder so many sought its protection!
Three Decades of Preservation Efforts
Protection of the Nanjemoy began in the 1970s when local citizens successfully
fought and won a legal case to prevent construction of a nuclear power plant
along the Potomac River. In the late 1990s, a gravel mining company purchased
the property and submitted a proposal to quarry in the area. Again the local
citizens rallied, and in 2000, DNR, BLM, the Commissioners of Charles County and
The Conservation Fund (TCF) signed a cooperative initiative to provide a
coordinated strategy for land acquisition, long-range planning, community
involvement and ongoing stewardship. In 2001, DNR and BLM jointly purchased the
1,921 acres that now constitute Nanjemoy NRMA.
approved management plan will provide the area with a continuation of this
unique partnership, by delegating management responsibilities to three levels of
government: BLM, DNR and Charles County. It also provides guidance on the types
of activities that will be allowed, where they will occur, when they will be
phased in and how they will be managed over the next 10 to 15 years.
A Recreational Resource
Through a long-term lease with DNR, most of the more intensive recreational
infrastructure and activities will be provided by Charles County. The County
will lease (from DNR) and manage approximately 185 acres near Mallows Bay to
utilize as a waterfront park. By summer of 2006, the County hopes to have
improved road access and constructed a single-lane motorized boat launch that
will provide much-needed access to the Potomac River mainstem.
Plans for next year also include construction of a non-motorized canoe/kayak
launch to the Potomac River Water Trail, installation of an
interpretative/informational kiosk and portable restroom facilities, and
construction of picnic pavilions. During later phases, preliminary facilities
will be improved (the portable restroom will become a permanent building, etc.),
accessible parking and trails will be added to provide access for people with
disabilities, and camping sites and a small visitor center may be added if and
when demand is evident.
DNR and BLM will also provide for public
access but will primarily manage the remaining 1,736 acres of the property to
maximize protection of natural and cultural resources. Trails will connect areas
throughout the NRMA and provide three pedestrian access points to the Potomac
River. The BLM will also create an accessible interpretative trail to access the
archeological remains of the Chiles Homesite. DNR will manage hunting on the
property and plans to create an environmental restoration area that will enhance
and restore habitat for several threatened and endangered species, such as the
leopard’s bane plant and the frosted elfin butterfly.
Partners for the Future
Despite the complexities of dealing with different rules, policies and
regulations, all three entities have agreed to manage operations as seamlessly
as possible so that the public only experiences one managing entity, To
accomplish this goal, decision-making will be made through a new prototype
management team, consisting of DNR resource professionals from a variety of
disciplines as well as representatives from BLM and Charles County. The team
will meet regularly to coordinate and create an annual work plan, pool
resources, and assign responsibility for upcoming infrastructure and activity
Pooling resources is just one of the benefits of
this unique management approach. Cooperative agreements, such as BLM’s Challenge
Cost Share program, provides matching grants to implement activities and build
infrastructure; last year BLM funded and DNR staff implemented invasive species
removal throughout Nanjemoy NRMA. The team will also be responsible for
continuing to involve the community with regard to the future use of this
Nanjemoy NRMA has and will continue to serve as an
innovative example of how to overcome funding and staffing challenges to provide
effective public land management for Marylanders. By remaining in public hands,
the areas’ unique natural and cultural resources will remain forever protected …
and not forgotten.
For further information regarding this property, please visit:
The Maryland Natural Resource...Your guide to recreation and conservation in Maryland.