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Camp Ritchie named to Md. endangered list

March 15, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

CASCADE - The Camp Ritchie Historic District, on the site of the 600-acre former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base and a former espionage school near Cascade, has been named to a list of the 11 most endangered sites in Maryland.

Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit organization, announced the list in partnership with Maryland Life magazine.

The annual endangered site program is an effort to raise awareness of sites across the state that face threats, said Jessica Feldt, outreach director for Preservation Maryland.

Volunteers, including people from the Maryland Historical Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other organizations, create the list of endangered sites.

The Camp Ritchie Historic District is "threatened by commercial over-development from a real-estate investment trust, which intends to purchase all of Fort Ritchie to develop suburban office buildings and adjacent parking areas," according to information in Maryland Life magazine.

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Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md., purchased the property in two phases beginning in October 2006, said Chuck Fiala, senior vice president of COPT.

Fiala said he was "disappointed" that the Camp Ritchie Historic District was on the list.

"They appear to have little or no understanding about our development plan for Fort Ritchie," he said.

The people who nominated Camp Ritchie to the list were trying to protect, in particular, the parade field, said Jim Lemon, an acquaintance of Faye and Sheldon Cohen, who nominated the site.

The Cohens, who live in Chevy Chase, Md., spoke to The Herald-Mail through Lemon. Faye Cohen's family has owned property in the Pen Mar area for decades, Lemon said.

The parade grounds are protected as part of the design guidelines that govern the historic district, Fiala said. Those guidelines were established in 1997 by the U.S. Army, the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Maryland Historical Trust and PenMar Development Corp., he said.

COPT is investing $5 million in a new community center, which will be built on the footprint of the old gym, about half of which was torn down. Planners intend to use the parade grounds for recreational purposes, such as softball and soccer fields, Fiala said.

"We are balancing historic preservation, and struggling to find economic viability of some 64 (to) 68 old historic stone structures that up to this point have been left to rot," Fiala said.

The base, which dates to 1926, was built by the Maryland National Guard.

Back then, Fort Ritchie was Camp Ritchie, said Rich Rook, executive director of the PenMar Development Corp. The PenMar organization was created in 1997 to oversee the conversion of the former U.S. Army base, which closed in 1998 as part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Program.

Much of the former base is known by the state preservation office as the Camp Ritchie Historic District. That district includes at least 50 stone buildings, two lakes and about 30 acres of open space known as the parade grounds.

In 1942, Camp Ritchie was taken over by the War Department's Military Intelligence Training Center. Intelligence officers and interpreters were trained there before being sent overseas.

After the U.S. Army took over Camp Ritchie, it grew and eventually was designated a fort.

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