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Land around battlefield to be protected

June 10, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

SHARPSBURG - Washington County will get $2.3 million to preserve about 1,000 acres of open space around Antietam National Battlefield, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced Tuesday.

The money is available through Maryland's first Rural Legacy program, which aims to protect land that's important to the environment, agriculture and history or culture.

"It's a major step in the preservation of open space, farmland, around the battlefield," said Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, who attended the governor's announcement in Comus, Md.

The target is a 37,000-acre swath through southern Washington County starting north of Keedysville and south of Sharpsburg.

Landowners who qualify may sell their development rights, forever preserving the properties from development.

Washington County joined with Frederick and Montgomery counties to apply for the grant, officials said.

Those counties will get about $3 million each to preserve 1,700 acres near the Potomac River and the Appalachian Trail. Statewide, Glendening has committed to spending $29 million.

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Bill and Mary Poffenberger, who own a 189-acre beef cattle farm on Mondel Road, are hoping to be one of the first families to take advantage of the program.

The farm has been in the family since Mary Poffenberger's grandfather bought it in 1913. The couple wants to retire and hand over the operation to their son, Scot.

"This is a project to keep land out of development. We're not interested in a lot of houses," Bill Poffenberger said.

Last year, the county lost about 200 acres of open space to development while preserving about 700 acres of farmland, said Eric Seifarth, farmland preservation administrator for the Washington County Planning Department.

A total of 10,000 acres is protected from development, but the county would like another 40,000 acres to be protected in programs such as Rural Legacy and Agricultural Land Preservation, he said.

Bowers predicted the Rural Legacy program would help erase any bitterness left from the preservation arguments over the Grove Farm near Sharpsburg in the late 1980s.

Bowers said he made a mistake by supporting a rezoning that would have allowed a shopping center to be built near the site of a historic meeting between President Abraham Lincoln and Union Gen. George McClellan following the Battle of Antietam.

The commissioners later reversed themselves and zoned the area agricultural, limiting development to one house per acre.

In the late 1980s, Antietam battlefield preservation got a $10 million boost through state and federal grants.

Even with those easements, there are still gaps of potential development in the area that the Rural Legacy program hopes to fill, Seifarth said.

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