How do you make conservation a household word? How do you engage community leaders, local businesses, tourism bureaus, and members of the public in a conversation about conservation? How do you build common ground, and take dynamic, positive steps to conserve land and promote conservation on a regional scale?
Led by the Maryland Environmental Trust, 28 conservation-minded people in Frederick and Washington Counties met in Jefferson, Maryland, in late April 2018 to ask these questions — and discuss the potential for a Regional Conservation Partnership to answer them. The outcome surprised us all. As one of the participants in the workshop said, “We need a new approach to change the conversation. We’ve been waiting for something like this for a long, long time.”
Regional Conservation Partnerships began emerging in the 1990s in New England as a means of coordinating the efforts and messages of diverse interests in conservation on a regional level, and more than 40 Regional Conservation Partnerships now work in much of New England, upstate New York, and other parts of the country. This Regional Conservation Partnership would be the first of its kind in Maryland, which speaks to the participants’ energy and enthusiasm for conservation of significant landscapes in the fast-changing environment of Frederick and Washington Counties.
The landscape of western Frederick County and eastern Washington County is home to an incredibly rich canvas of nationally significant historic sites, rich farmlands and forest lands, clean water, and spectacular scenic vistas and outdoor recreational resources. Take your pick among the Antietam, South Mountain and Monocacy Civil War battlefields; the productive farmlands of the Monocacy, Catoctin, and Antietam Creek valleys; the upland forests of the South Mountain and Catoctin Mountain ranges; and the Potomac River and its major tributaries, which deliver clean water to millions of people and the Chesapeake Bay. And that’s just a start. Take the world-famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the C&O Canal National Historical Park, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and Heart of the Civil War Heritage Areas, Greenbrier, Gapland, Washington Monument, Catoctin, and Cunningham Falls State Parks, dozens of hiking, bike-riding, and other outdoor recreation resources, or any of the region's historical roads that crisscross the landscape or historical villages and towns along the National Road. These places enhance the quality of life for those of us who live, work, and recreate here. More importantly, the threats from pipelines, power lines, and sprawl are real and immediate, and current programs to conserve the significant conservation values of the region fall far short of demand.
The creation of a Regional Conservation Partnership would facilitate collaboration among conservation organizations, communities, agencies, and the public on a regional scale. It would help foster an appreciation for the superb and authentic historic, scenic, and recreational landscapes of the region, and help quantify and communicate the economic benefits of conserving these landscapes through innovative means. Most important of all, such a partnership would help craft and communicate a cohesive, consistent, over-arching, positive, more powerful message about the value of landscape-scale conservation in Frederick and Washington Counties.
Our next conversation will be held this summer, with community leaders and conservation supporters in Washington County. Then, we plan to hold a much larger conversation with members of the public in September, with the goal of creating Maryland’s first Regional Conservation Partnership right here at home in Frederick and Washington Counties. Ultimately, our goal is to create a collaborative, positive, and unified voice for conservation of the spectacular historical and natural landscapes of Frederick and Washington Counties.