“Celebrating Our Past, Creating Our Future.”

Nanjemoy Natural Resource Management Area

Natural Riches and Historic Treasures in Charles County

by Matt Bucchin

Douglas PointTucked 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.

Natural Riches

a photo of the sunsetting on the Potomac RiverNanjemoy 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 significant landscapes 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.

This pristine, 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.

Historic Treasures

Located within the Nanjemoy NRMA, the Chiles Homesite (photographed here) was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.Nanjemoy NRMA’s cultural and archeological resources are equally as significant. 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.

Today, the 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

A photo of the Nanjemoy peninsula along the tidal Potomac River.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 implementation.

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 property.

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.

Note:  This article originally appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of The Maryland Natural Resource Magazine.