Saved 75 acres of unspoiled acreage of mature deciduous forest through which flows Big Branch, a major tributary of Deer Creek
When James R. Kelly, Jr. of Tacoma Park died in December 2002, he left instructions in his will that a 75-acre vacation retreat he owned in North Harford County be kept "wild and unimproved" by an organization such as Harford Land Trust, Inc. It is a remarkable property and Mr. Kelly was a remarkable man.
He was a native of Harford whose varied achievements were climaxed by the Distinguished Career Award, the highest honor of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, for the innovative outpatient treatment program he developed for that agency.
HLT completed the agreement of sale for his North Harford property and expects took ownership in June 2004 for $75,000. $25,000 came from a foundation challenge grant, which was matched by a Trust donor. The remaining $25,000 was supplied by Trust funds. To carry out Mr. Kelly's wishes that the property be preserved as a natural area in perpetuity, HLT prepared a joint-conservation easement with the Maryland Environmental Trust.
The Kelly property, or "The Gulch" as it is now known, is in Harford's northwestern corner south of the juncture of Harkins Road and Onion Road, one of the least traveled areas remaining in the county. It is an unspoiled acreage of mature deciduous forest through which flows Big Branch, a major tributary of Deer Creek. There is a cabin there where Mr. Kelly enjoyed rustic weekends and was host to his many friends.
His will stipulated that cabin and woods, by sale or donation, "remain in private, non-governmental ownership, wild and unimproved to be used for educational, conservation and recreational purposed only, and that any future alterations or structures be kept to a minimum necessary for maintaining the property."
James R. Kelly, Jr. was only 68 when he died of throat cancer on December 12, 2002, at a hospice near his Tacoma Park home. He grew up on a family dairy farm in Churchville and went to Bel Air High School. With a facility for languages and a desire to travel he aspired to a career as a diplomat and went to the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He was a member of the U.S. Army Intelligence in Heidelberg, Germany at the time of the Soviet invasion of Hungary.
After two years in the military he made a career change, earning a masters degree in psychiatric social work in 1961 from the University of Chicago. He then climbed through the ranks of the VA hierarchy to become chief of community care programs from 1975 to 1988 and director of extended care service from 1988 until his retirement in 1997. In these roles he gets much of the credit for developing adult day care and home health-aid programs as an alternative to long and costly nursing home or hospital stays for veterans. Mr. Kelly never married. He was famed through his wide circle of friends as a gourmet cook, a highly informed gardener, singer, dancer, conversationalist, desirable guest, host and world traveler.
His obituaries in both The Sun and The Washington Post featured his pilgrimage in 1998, after retirement, to the cathedral dedicated to St. James the Greater in Santiago de Compostele, Spain. Mr. Kelly spent three months walking the 800-mile pilgrimage route from near Paris, a route traveled by pilgrims since the Middle Ages, and making lasting friends along the way. James R. Kelly's Harford County property is a welcome addition to Land Trust holdings to be kept, according to his wishes, as an undisturbed natural area. It is also a reminder to future visitors of a life well spent.