The Potomac Master Plan recommended adding more than 600 acres of new parks in Potomac when it was passed last year. While the plan offered no guarantees or funding for the acquisition of the parkland, the purchase of the two largest Potomac parcels is already underway.
On March 13, the Park and Planning Commission approved, with discussion, placing the Serpentine Barrens (the Miller and Smith property) and Callithea Farm in reservation, a step in the ongoing process of acquiring the two properties as permanent additions to the county park system.
“We’re buying them in installments,” said Bill Gries, land acquisition specialist for park and planning.
The county will purchase each of the two properties over five years. By placing the properties in reservation, the properties are removed from the tax rolls in the meantime, so the landowner does not have to pay real estate taxes.
“It’s a fairness issue,” Gries said. The commission can only place land in reservation for three years at a time, so it will be necessary to reserve the land again three years from now in order to complete the five-year schedule.
In the 30 years he has been working in the county’s acquisition program, the county has never missed a payment, Gries said. “The installment purchases get our priority funding.”
The Miller and Smith property is approximately 259 acres, located west of Piney Meetinghouse Road and South of Boswell Lane. Its value is a result of what is called Serpentine bedrock.
“Serpentine bedrock represents less than one percent of the earth’s geology,” said John Parrish of the Maryland Native Plant Society.
According to Parrish the bedrock is only 12 to 18 inches below ground, compared to most cases where bedrock can be dozens of feet below ground level. “The soil is very impoverished from the sake of soil fertility,” Parrish said.
The shallow soil creates an environment that supports an unusual ecosystem, including many species of rare and endangered plants. The trees in the area are stunted, even though many of them are more than 100 years old, because they cannot extend their roots downward.
“We’ve documented about 20 rare species,” Parrish said.
The soil both drains poorly and does not retain water well, so it is susceptible to both flooding and drought.
“Plants have to have root systems that can withstand both extremes,” Parrish said.
In the larger scheme, Parrish explained that the area complements the Potomac River corridor and Blockhouse Point Conservation Park.
Callithea, an approximately 93 acre parcel, provides a link to Maryland’s equestrian past, as well as a strategic addition of parkland adjacent to Blockhouse Point and the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
“The state of Maryland has such a long running history with horses,” said Tim McGrath, Montgomery County Coordinator for the equestrian group Trail Riders of Today (TROT).
“I would say without reservation it has provided affordable, quality stabling for horses and it’s close in,” McGrath said.
Preserving the farm helps to preserve Potomac rural character, McGrath said.
“If it wasn’t preserved as a farm, you’d see it mansionized. It’s another way of putting a check on sprawl and preserving open space,” McGrath said.