Cecil Land Trust gets fresh grant money for preservation

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently awarded $18.8 million to 18 Rural Legacy programs, including Fair Hill Rural Legacy in Cecil County, for preservation efforts. Cecil Land Trust received $1.04 million.

ANNAPOLIS — Cecil Land Trust met with Gov. Larry Hogan last week to accept a grant for $1.04 million toward the next round of preservation projects.

“We have a list of farmers who are ready to put their land into preservation,” said Alisa Webb, executive coordinator. Webb said in 2019 CLT put three farms into preservation, which represents 414 acres protected from future development.

Hogan announced the disbursement of more than $18.8 million for Rural Legacy programs in 18 counties, including Cecil’s Fair Hill Rural Legacy program.

“Funding from these grants will permanently protect more than 4,500 acres of working farms, forests, open space, shorelines, and wetlands — plus cultural and historical resources — throughout the state,” the release from the Maryland Board of Public Works reads. Each project in this latest award cycle, was recommended by the Rural Legacy board, which consists of the Maryland Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Planning.

The Agriculture Security Corridor, which also includes Cecil County, received $970,123 however none of those funds will be spent locally.

Fair Hill Rural Legacy was awarded $1,044,382 to bring lands contiguous to Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area into preservation.

“Conservation of property in this area will support the local resource-based economy, including equestrian activities. The Board originally designated the Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area in 1999,” the press release states.

Bill Kilby, president of the Cecil County non-profit organization, said CLT is targeting certain areas in the western end.

“We have pockets of land we want to make contiguous,” Kilby said. Those lands, if acquired, would close gaps along Montgomery and Wilson roads. “The one on Montgomery Road is part of 1,800 acres of protected land.”

Kilby said CLT is also making progress working with Amish-owned farms in the Bay View area. He said that community is open to the concept as they grow dairy and produce operations.

Working with Rural Legacy and Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays programs CLT wants to save as much of Cecil County’s farm heritage as possible. That includes the farms that are part of what is known as ”The Nottingham Lots,” which was 37 tracts of 500 acres each that were granted to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, in the late 1600s.

“Some of these lots have been in continuous farming for more than 300 years,” Kilby said, adding that, of those more than 18,000 acres, a large number are already in preservation.

By accepting the grant monies, Kilby said the farmers sell development rights to CLT.

“The owner can continue to farm. They just can’t build houses,” he said.

Farmers interested in putting land into preservation must offer at least 50 acres. Rural Legacy is a lifetime commitment whereas Chesapeake and Atlantic programs run 10 years. For CLT the goal is perpetual preservation.

“We want agriculture to grow here,” Kilby said. Diversification is a means to that end, he said. He pointed to the growth of such farm-based industries as Staf-Herd Angus jerky and Chesapeake Gold cheese. “We want to encourage entrepreneurship.”

And it appears to be working.

“Of all the counties in the state, since 1974 Cecil County has doubled its ag products sold here,” Kilby said. “No other county came close.”

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