Out and About (Sort of): Delmarva on the Cusp by Howard Freedlander

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With the looming possibility of serious consideration in the corridors of power in Annapolis of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span, the future of the Delmarva Peninsula as a precious slice of geography becomes an urgent subject. It requires a vision, while seemingly improbable, to take shape and grab hold of the minds and hearts of all of us living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia and most of Delaware.

Though not widely known at this point, Delmarva Oasis is a concept discussed most recently in The Spy and other venues by author Tony Hiss to describe a huge conservation effort to protect 50-80 percent of the land of Delmarva. The intent behind protecting this mass of land is to preserve not just the human quality of life but also the millions of species that go unrecognized in our daily comings and goings.

This expansive concept encompasses total conservation, including food production, public access and habitat lands to sustain the basic life conditions of Delmarva. Into this massive transformation of Delmarva, we must include deterrence of the destructive effects of global warming and climate change, appropriate economic and real estate development, the impact of increasing vehicular traffic, the hospitality of the region to waterfowl—and the list can on and on.

At this point, before readers consider this subject as pie-in-the-sky meanderings, I suggest attention be paid to the New Jersey Pine Barrens as an example of conservation of a prized piece of geography. Known as the New Jersey Pinelands National Preserve, it comprises historic villages and berry farms amid vast oak-pine forest, extensive wetlands and a wide range of plants and animals of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecoregion. It is protected by state and federal legislation and managed by local, state and federal agencies, as well as the private sector.

Established in November 1978, the Pinelands consists of 1,164,025 acres, all but 24,000 acres of which contain pin-oak forest. The area crosses seven counties and includes all or parts of 56,000 municipalities; the population as of the 2010 census totaled 870,000 people.

The ecological diversity encompasses 580 native species of plants—54 are threatened or endangered. The Pinelands Reserve is home to 299 species of birds, nine fish, 59 reptiles and amphibians and 39 mammals.

Agriculture defines the Delmarva Peninsula. According to a document produced by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), Delmarva “is the largest contiguous block of productive farmland on the East Coast from Maine to the Carolinas.” This fertile terrain lies within an overnight drive of 60 million or one-third of America’s consumers.

For full disclosure, I am a member of the ESLC board. ESLC has been a catalyst in the preservation of nearly 60,000 acres since 1990.
As Tony Hiss said in his Spy interview, the Delmarva Oasis is an audacious initiative. If it happens, it will bring towns and cities, farmland, marshlands and wilderness under one umbrella of sustained preservation. It will ensure that the Delmarva Peninsula will not be over-developed, as has happened in Middletown, DE, where land use has gone sadly and messily astray.

The question now is how does this alluring concept become a hard reality? Not easily, for sure. At least at this embryonic stage, ESLC will lead the charge in determining its feasibility. It will coordinate a slew of partners and funders to determine whether the public and private will exists to undertake such a complex initiative.

As I get older, I focus more and more on the value of legacy. Simply, I constantly think about how to preserve and conserve a quality of life that my family and I have been privileged to enjoy on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for nearly 42 years. I realize that we have a regional citizenship in Delmarva.

Delmarva Oasis will become common nomenclature in the near future. I hope it will capture the imagination and buy-in from government and private funders and partners. I hope it will succeed, realizing that the effort will be long and intricate.

The Delmarva Peninsula is a special place to live, play and pray. It can become a protected region. The Pinelands Reserve exemplifies what’s possible.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Letters to Editor

  1. Delmarva Oasis has captured my imagination.

  2. The Delmarva Oasis is a huge challenge – and a huge opportunity for Delmarva. In 2003 Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and ESLC partnered on a similar effort that resulted in a three state commitment and a request of the Federal Government for over 100 million in supplemental Delmarva conservation funding. While the 2003 effort ultimately went unfunded, key partnerships and shared understandings were built. Given the grave challenges that we face today with climate change and loss of farms and wildlife habitat, it is more important than ever for a similar initiative to succeed today.

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