In 2007, the HLT partnered with the Harford County government and the U.S. Army to preserve 163 acres of farmland along Deer Creek.
Different Interests Converge to Preserve Farmland and Protect Deer Creek
The Harford Land Trust, a local farm owner and realtor, the U.S. Army, and the Harford County government have different reasons for wanting to preserve a parcel of farmland along Deer Creek. In 2005, those interests converged to create a partnership that in 2007 preserved a 164-acre farm adjacent to Deer Creek and the Churchville Test Area of the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
The farmland owned by the Harry G. Hopkins family since 1955 was a dairy farm and orchard, but is now cropland and pasture for beef cattle and thoroughbred horses. The family had already platted and recorded 11 residential lots when the Army approached them about preserving their farm through the Department of Defense’s Army Compatible Use Buffer Program (ACUB).
Based on previous experience elsewhere, the Army was concerned that a new residential neighborhood so close to its’ testing facility would become a source of complaints about noise, dust and nighttime lights that are a part of vehicle testing. Possible protests from neighbors might constrain operations on the 11 miles of engineered tracks and interconnecting roads at the Churchville Test Area (CTA). The Army considers the CTA’s hilly terrain to be its’ premier facility for evaluating endurance and reliability of wheeled and tracked vehicles.
The Harford Land Trust and Bill Amoss, director of the Harford County’s Agricultural Preservation Program, considered the Hopkins’ farm a keystone in preserving farmland along the lower Deer Creek Valley.
The Harford Land Trust was recommended by the staff at APG to act as an intermediary for all parties, according to the Army, because its’ “proven and recognized expertise in land preservation and related management strategies”. The Department of Defense provided direction and financial resources, Harford County government provided financial resources, and HLT provided professional & volunteer services to all parties so that this project could reach success. The resulting partnerships produced two conservation easements that will preserve the fields and forests of the Hopkins farm in perpetuity, further help protect Deer Creek, and enable the Churchville Test Area to fulfill its’ significant mission.
Peg Niland and Harry Webster invested many hours, days and months developing a working relationship with the Aberdeen Proving Ground team, learning a whole new language of military acronyms, and negotiating the terms of the Conservation Easement. One of the highlights of the project that Harry observed was the courteous, professional, and light-hearted way the APG team responded to all questions, quickly resolving situations as they arose, and assisting Peg every step of the way. Despite vowing never to learn military time, Peg, with the help of Andy Murphy of U.S. Army Garrison, Aberdeen Proving Ground, is no longer challenged by this feat.
Often times the discussions in these kinds of transactions can be intense and sometimes frustrating; however, the element of humor was never far away in our discussions with Tim Hopkins, his father Harry Hopkins, and sister Peggy Bachman. Peg Niland recalls the first meeting with the family where Harry Hopkins circled but did not sit at the table until initial concerns were clarified. Our meetings with the Tim, Peggy and Mr. Hopkins were always amicable and we never left the room without a few laughs. The family’s choice to preserve the land, mirror the closeness of the family and the values they hold. Spending time with the family listening to their needs, desires, and concerns, while expressing the wishes of the Army was never too difficult to do. Harry Webster, who has known the family members for years, was critical to the success because of his enthusiasm for the ACUB program and his determination to bring all parties to agreement. Everyone involved agreed that perseverance, patience and a good sense of humor were essential for success.
When Glenn Dudderar, Chairman of the HLT Lands Committee, interviewed Harry Hopkins for this article, he learned that Harry grew up along Rt. 155 and later bought the “Deer Creek hill-country farm” in 1955. After relaying information about the farm’s ponds, farming practices, and the special feature of lying on Deer Creek, he told a special story. His parents had come to live with them on the farm and in the waning days of his father’s life, the family wanted to give him something visual to occupy his days. Their home at one end is covered mostly in large windows and the thought came to him that a duck pond would be nice. The pond was excavated to collect rain and run off but due to a serious dry spell, there wasn’t any water. However, a mated pair of geese was available and Mr. Hopkins’ mother bought them and moved them onto the land with a dry pond for a home. Mr. Hopkins and his mother suffered a great deal of joking about this, but not for long. The entire pond was filled to overflowing in one day when a major hurricane hit.
The Harford Land Trust board of directors was particularly supportive and hopeful of this projects’ success. The Hopkins farm is rich in history and family memories and we know that future owners can continue to farm and to enjoy the ponds, fields and forests of the land. The U.S. Army will continue to be a notable neighbor, but will not have to face the threat of new residential neighbors objecting to its’ testing. The big winners, however, will be the citizens of Harford County and beyond, because the preserved land will help maintain the cold, clear water of Deer Creek for recreation, drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat. The maintenance of the water quality of Deer Creek contributes to the water quality of the Susquehanna River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, it should be noted that Harford County’s Department of Planning and Zoning partnered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to develop a Watershed Restoration Action Strategy (WRAS) for Deer Creek because of the creek’s ecological and economic value. The evaluation of the creek’s condition and restoration needs was completed in 2006 and the strategy for protection and restoration, completed in late 2007, includes farm and forest preservation. Such preservation is vital because research has shown that an increase of impervious surface in a watershed results in a corresponding decrease in water quality and biological diversity in the watershed.