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Officials gather to tout cooperation on preservation

As an osprey wheeled overhead in the sunny blue sky above Douglas Point State Resource Management Area, officials from federal, state and local governments made their case last week for the funding measure that made preservation of the riverfront tract possible.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said Douglas Point is “one of the treasures in our midst,” and noted that the land is part of a tract — about 1,900 acres near the Potomac River in the Nanjemoy area — that has been preserved over the past several years using money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that uses fees from Bureau of Land Management mineral leases to fund acquisition of land for preservation.

Jewell said at the May 22 event that the program can provide funds to preserve land that has three characteristics: significant historical or heritage resources, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities for residents. Douglas Point contains all three, she said, including the Chiles Homesite Colonial period settlement dating from about 1653, copious indications of Native American use of the site, and plentiful fossils found at the bases of cliffs along the Potomac.

The area hosts wildlife among its miles of trails, and is an open hunting area in season. The site also has picnic areas and boat access to the river.

Zach Reichold, who manages the area for the BLM, said one unique feature of the site encompasses all three of the priority categories.

“This point is very special,” he said as he waited for officials, security personnel and various aides to get organized for a hike from a parking lot to a Potomac overlook. “We have wildlife watching, fishing and mountain biking, but this is also the place where two historic water trails come together, the Star Spangled Banner Trail and the Capt. John Smith Trail. It’s marked on the trail maps as a place where canoeists and kayakers can take their canoes out, rest for a while, look for fossils or whatever.”

Besides an opportunity to advocate for the continuation of the LWCF enabling legislation — up for a renewal vote in September, Jewell said in her speech — officials used the occasion to tout the benefits of the unique cooperation among agencies at all levels that the fund promotes.

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) noted that the 1,900 acres contains property preserved using federal money from the LWCF, state funds through the Department of Natural Resources, county funds and funds from private nonprofits such as the Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Conservancy. The nonprofits buy land for preservation, and then offer it for sale to government agencies to recharge their bank accounts and ensure the land is properly conserved.

“I take credit for Douglas Point because that’s my job. I take credit for things,” Hoyer said, earning a laugh from the 50 or so guests invited to the event. “But truly, this piece of land is a testament to cooperation among many, many entities.”

Hoyer strayed into politics, noting that the much-maligned “earmark” program, wherein legislators could get money for projects they championed appropriated, was sometimes a good thing. He said the original money to preserve Douglas Point had come through the earmark program, and “this project is an example of how to use it for the public good.”

Hoyer also blasted the mandatory “sequestration” cuts in the federal budget — the product of a failed budget deal in 2014.

“Sequester starts with an ‘S’, and ‘S’ stands for stupid,” Hoyer said. “It’s a reckless disinvestment in America, and all of our interests will be damaged if we do not change it.”

Mark Belton, a former county administrator for Charles County and the new secretary of DNR under Gov. Larry Hogan, thanked Hoyer for introducing him — “I’ve never in my life had a congressman introduce me at a public event, so it’s a tremendous day — thanked Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) for his presence at the event and for being a “tremendous advocate for the Chesapeake Bay, and pledged that Hogan’s administration would continue the cooperation represented by Douglas Point to preserve more sensitive land.

Charles County Commissioner Debra Davis (D), on hand with commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) and commissioners’ Vice President Ken Robinson (D) at the event, said she is proud that Douglas Point is in the 2nd District she represents.

“I think it is essential, not only in the county and the state, but in the country” to preserve property like Douglas Point, Davis said.

Douglas Point event also advocates for funding renewal