Anita C. Leight Estuary Center

Judy Dettner

Anita C. Leight is home to one of the few remaining large freshwater tidal marshes in the upper Chesapeake Bay accessible to the public.

In 2001, Harford Land Trust protected 32 acres of woods, wetlands and waterfront surrounding Harford County’s Anita C. Leight Estuary Center to enhance and protect the watershed and to assist in the mission of the Estuary Center.

Later, in 2015, Harford Land Trust purchased an additional 22 acres of wooded property on Otter Point and Abingdon Beach Roads, further buffering Anita C. Leight Estuary Center.

Funding the Future

Harford Land Trust paid $650,000 to the Victor B. Hirshauer Trust for the 32-acre property in 2001. Harford County’s Department of Parks & Recreation took immediate possession of the property. At the time, the transaction was one of the most ambitious projects the Harford Land Trust had attempted.

The property, which lies along Otter Point Road, is within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area but was zoned R2, R3 and B3. The seller had rejected a development company’s offer of $700,000 for it. The Harford County government wanted to purchase the property but did not have the funds. Harford Land Trust agreed to negotiate the purchase and raise the money if the county could pay it back within three years.

The seller agreed to work with the Harford Land Trust and set the price at $650,000. The Abell Foundation loan’s interest-free loan enabled HLT to settle right away. Four months later, Harford County received a grant of $300,00 from Maryland Program Open Space earmarked for the purchase. Also six months later, with the Board of Public Works approval, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made a matching grant of $300,000 to Program Open Space for the purchase.

anita leight estuary center abingdon maryland
Photo by Shawn Young

A Coveted Sanctuary

The Estuary Center is contiguous to a 260-acre “National Estuarine Research Reserve” which is one of four National Estuarine Sanctuaries established by NOAA in Maryland’s portion of Chesapeake Bay.

The area is also contiguous to the Izaak Walton League’s Melvin G. Bosely Conservancy of 370 acres at the mouth of Winter’s Run and Otter Point Creek, which Harford Land Trust subsequently expanded in 2019. All of these properties together total more than 700 acres of contiguous land and water now preserved along the Bush River.

The seller of the acquisition, the Victor B. Hirshauer Revocable Trust, had owned most of the land since 1931. For members of the Hirshauer family in the 1930s and 1940s it was a place for outdoor recreation. Since the 1950s two modest residences on the property had been rented. HLT’s pre-aquisition labors included planning and financing, demolition and complete cleaning of the site of all of the dilapidated houses.

Further Expansion

In late 2015, Harford Land Trust purchased a 22 acre property, zoned for high-density residential (allowing 14 units per acre) with frontage on Abingdon Beach Road and Otter Point Road. The purchase price was $345,000 and the funding was made possible through Harford Land Trust’s partnership with Aberdeen Proving Ground.

This diverse property, some of which is located in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, mostly consists of mixed deciduous forest with a wide variety of evenly distributed tree and shrub species. Several areas show reforestation after sand and gravel extraction years ago.

A strip of property owned by BGE bisects the property creating an open space in the forest. Small disturbances like these usually come hand-in-hand with invasive plants, yet there is a noticeable lack of invasive species at this site. The resulting early successional plant species at the site actually increase the overall biodiversity of the property, and a variety of both woody and herbaceous species can be found throughout, along with their associated wildlife.

This site has tremendous diversity of vegetation, sensitive habitat including vernal pools, and presence in a significant migratory bird corridor. Protection of this property provides a much needed refuge for species in the highly developed coastal plain of Harford County, protection of the Bush River and Chesapeake Bay and abundant green space for residents in a highly developed area.

anita leight estuary center abingdon maryland
Photo by Shawn Young

Our Work Depends on You

Harford Land Trust can save more land in Harford County, Maryland, because of generous people like you.

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