Friday Focus: The Conservancy for Charles County

The community around us is constantly growing and changing, and in recent years, Charles County has seen stunning levels of growth and development,Charles County Conservancy often at the expense of the natural landscape. The Conservancy for Charles County recognized a need to protect the natural resources, farmland, watersheds and historical sites within the county, and works hard to ensure that these places will remain a part of the community for years to come. We spoke with the Conservancy’s President, Hal Delaplane, for this week’s Friday Focus interview.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: We are an all-volunteer qualified local land trust that is designated a charitable 501(c)(3) nonprofit.  We were formed in 1996 by local residents who were concerned with the pace of development and its obvious threats to the environment and our quality of life.  Our purpose is to protect the scenic, natural, forest, agricultural and historic places in Charles County for the benefit of all its residents.

We are the only land trust operating exclusively in Charles County. In partnership with the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET), we have protected over 1,800 acres of privately owned land throughout the county by working with landowners in a voluntary program of donated conservation easements.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A:   I think our coolest single moment came a few years back.  In 2006, we acquired a conservation easement on the 186-acre Mudd Farm tract near Waldorf in a complicated series of transactions.  The farm, which had been in the Mudd family for more than 200 years, surrounds the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House where Dr. Mudd set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. The house and farm are operated today by the Dr. Samuel Mudd Society as a museum and is Charles County’s most visited tourist site.

When the Conservancy became involved, the farm had been sold to a La Plata developer for development as a subdivision.  The developer generously allowed us time to arrange its purchase by the county with Rural Legacy Program funds.  The county in turn sold the farm to the Mudd Society who donated the easement jointly to the Conservancy and the county.  The process took about five years.

The easement enhances and sustains an irreplaceable historic landscape.  Visitors can look down from Dr. Mudd’s bedroom window on a view of rolling farm fields and Zekiah Swamp that is unchanged from Dr. Mudd’s day. (Pictured in photo).

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A:   We are dependent on membership dues, individual donations and grants.  Like other small non-profits, we are looking for ways to make our funding more reliable from year to year, looking for new members and looking for Board members.  These are all expressions of the same underlying challenge: how do we make ourselves better known and more relevant to the community, especially to the young and to minorities?  How can we better convey our message to them?

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A:   We are exhibiting at the four-day county fair.  Next on the schedule is our only fundraiser of the year– our annual fall dinner meeting next week at the Waldorf Jaycees Friday, September 26.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: Anyone interested in being a volunteer, for example to help staff our exhibits at public events or monitor our easements, can contact us through our website, www.conservecharles.org, or email us at info@conservecharles.org.

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