www.co.worcester.md.us

Rural Legacy Program

Maryland's rural lands and economies are at risk. Worcester County faces particular jeopardy. Many acres of productive farmland, forest, and wetlands have been converted or fragmented to accommodate the surge in the county's population growth during recent decades. The amount of land in agriculture in Worcester has decreased from about 57% of the County in the 1950's, to 35% today.
The Maryland Rural Legacy Program's  goal is to protect the best remaining landscapes in Maryland: rich farmland, extensive forests, threatened habitats and cultural resources; rural areas that, if left unfragmented by urban encroachment, may continue to be economically viable. There is at least one Rural Legacy Area in every county of the state and the total acreage designated in all Rural Legacy Areas is 920,694 acres.

Worcester County has established two Rural Legacy Areas.  The Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area is nearly 30,000 acres in size containing 14,000 acres of protected land. Close to 16 miles of undeveloped shoreline and 8,000 acres are protected through purchased conservation easements and fee simple acquisitions in this area that links the Pocomoke State Forest to the E.A. Vaughn Wildlife Management Area.  The Dividing Creek Rural Legacy Area , 23,000 acres, includes land in Somerset and Worcester Counties. It was established in 2008.  Over 1,000 acres have been protected in Worcester County.

WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between two parties that permanently limits use of a tract of land to protect its conservation values. In most cases this means permanent removal of development rights from the property. The restrictions stay with the title of the land even if the land changes ownership.For more information about conservation easements contact Katherine Munson at (410) 632-1220, ext. 1302 or kmunson@co.worcester.md.us.
 
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE COASTAL BAYS RURAL LEGACY AREA?
The Coastal Bays are a unique natural treasure of state and national significance. The Bays are part of the Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuary Program and fall within the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major migratory bird routes in the United States. With 360 bird species and 68 species of reptiles, the Coastal Bays watershed is considered to be one of the most ecologically diverse in the State. The southern Coastal Bays watershed, currently only 2% developed, holds much of this biological wealth. The open space, forest lands, wetlands and shallow bays provide habitat for species such as the common gray fox, the diamondback terrapin, the green heron, the spotted salamander, and approximately 20 species of plants and animals recognized as threatened or endangered by the State of Maryland.
The lands and people of the Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area contribute to the County's agricultural economy, which is second only to its tourism economy. The Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area has a long history of human use and includes at least 30 structures of historic or archeological significance.

WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE DIVIDING CREEK RURAL LEGACY AREA?

The Dividing Creek and watershed have been identified by The Nature Conservancy as a “Last Great Place” due to biodiversity and rare plants the area supports.  The area is 66% forest covered, but also includes important farmland (32% of the area) that contributes to the local and state economy.  The area includes and connects 15,000 acres of state-owned forested land (Pocomoke State Forest and other lands) and is adjacent to The Nature Conservancy’s Nassawango Creek Preserve.
 
VISITING THE RURAL LEGACY AREAS
To learn of biking, boating, kayaking, canoeing, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities in these areas contact the Worcester County Tourism Office at (410) 632-3110 or visit http://www.visitworcester.org.
For more information about the Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Program, contact Katherine Munson at (410) 632-1220, ext. 1302, or email kmunson@co.worcester.md.us.