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Parks and the Outdoors in 2005

2005 Year in Review

Montgomery County’s 93,000-acre agricultural reserve celebrated its 25th birthday in May, but faced mounting threats in 2005.

The reserve was established in 1980, when the Montgomery County Council approved a master plan that limited the upper third of the county to a density of one house per 25 acres.

The reserve has kept farming viable in the heavily urbanized county and provided environmental benefits and open space for recreation, proponents say.

But some groups have sought greater latitude to develop there, citing the high price of land elsewhere and questioning whether agriculture is the best use for so much land in a suburban county with robust commercial growth. Several large churches had plans to build large campuses in the reserve.

In November, the County Council effectively struck down those plans by denying water and sewer hook-ups for such facilities in the Ag Reserve zones.

That action elevated another debate: whether landowners in the reserve should be able to construct sand mound septic systems, which allow building areas where traditional septic systems wouldn’t work.

A proposed moratorium on sand mound systems in the reserve and another proposal to limit impervious surface in agricultural reserve construction will be resolved in 2006.

IN JUNE, trucks carried the last remaining contaminated debris from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, ending a nearly 15-year cleanup at the Potomac site, formerly the David Taylor Model Basin.

Five months later, the community advisory board that has monitored the cleanup met for the last time and agreed that only final sign-offs from the Maryland Department of Environment remain before Navy officials sign closeout documents stating that all cleanup activities at Carderock are complete.

The Navy testing facility conducted a preliminary assessment of possible contaminated sites in 1991, in response to federal requirements established in the 1980s. It identified nine sites that were contaminated or likely contaminated based on historical records and sampling.

The facility cleaned most of those sites, but found new ones in the process, which it has tackled in spurts over the last 10 years.

The cleanup focused on trace metals and contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), but the lead-contaminated soil from a former pistol range was the only EPA-labeled hazardous material to leave the base.

A C&O CANAL lockhouse built in 1830 got a new life in May with the Lockhouse 8 River Center, an educational center with displays about local ecology and Canal history.

The Potomac Conservancy worked in cooperation with the National Park Service to renovate the lockhouse beginning in 2003. The center opened May 14 and was staffed by volunteers on weekends during the summer.

In addition to the educational exhibits, the lockhouse is a locus for two ongoing Potomac Conservancy programs. “Second Saturdays” is a free monthly nature program that includes activities such as bird walks, wildflower identification and other ecology activities. “Voices of the River,” held on occasional Sundays, takes a more cultural and historical approach, with discussions of the history of the canal and its people.

POTOMAC’S SERPENTINE Barrens — a rare forest ecosystem atop greenish serpentine rock — became the county’s newest conservation park following approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board in November.

The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission began acquiring approximately 400 acres of the serpentine barrens in 2002 through its Legacy Open Space Program, which was established in 2001 as a 10-year, $100 million program to preserve ecologically and historically significant land in Montgomery County. The acquisition installments will be complete in July 2006.

The park will include hiker-only loop trails in its separate north and south parcels, wedged between Piney Meetinghouse and Travilah roads, and will allow little equestrian access, despite objections from the equestrian community.

The serpentine barrens is one of the best remaining examples of a rare ecosystem built on lime-colored rock and acidic soil.

Earlier in the year, Legacy Open Space acquired an 8.3-acre site in Potomac’s Watts Branch Stream Valley Park known as the Cahoon Property.

That site, on the west side of Glen Road, will remain undeveloped, like most Legacy acquisitions. It is a steep slope above the Watts Branch Stream, making its preservation particularly important to environmental preservation, according to Brenda Sandberg, who heads the Legacy Open Space Program.