Bay Life: Living with the Land

 Vol. 10, No. 11

March 14-20, 2002

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Ned HallNed Hall
by Nancy Hoffmann;
photo by Phil Hoffmann

Every year, Maryland loses 30,000 acres of open land to sprawl . That’s an area more than one-fifth the size of Calvert County. To slow that erosion, the state, counties and citizens have erected a bulwark of land-preservation programs.

Their efforts are beginning to pay off. In little Calvert County, the government programs have preserved more than 18,000 acres of forest and agricultural land. With 9,050 acres preserved, Anne Arundel County is running to catch up. A measure of how far Anne Arundel has to go is Carroll County, which is almost the same size and has preserved 37,190 acres of farmland.

Private land trusts, staffed mostly by volunteers, have also preserved hundreds of acres in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.
Let’s not forget the efforts of landowners like Ned Hall, who you are about to meet. They carefully manage their land and participate in the preservation programs. With 90 percent of Maryland’s woodland privately owned, they are vital to the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“It’s a tough job to cut down a tree,” says Edward ‘Ned’ Hall III of his 70-acre tree farm in Gambrills. Hall, 86, spent most of his life working as a professional surveyor in Anne Arundel County. He has walked most of the county and likely every inch of his land.

The “old sand pit” in Pasadena and the subdivision of “Snowden’s Reputation Supportage,” a 1,600-acre tract of land in the western part of the county, are pieces of county history he knows by heart.

But Hall’s gift is more than knowledge of boundary lines, who owned the land, who farmed it and who developed it. With a loving eye, he has studied the county’s rises and falls, its sands and rocks, its trees and brush, its foxes and rabbits.

Hall lives in Annapolis with his wife, Alice, in the house where they raised their three children. He retreats to the farm to keep watch over his trees.

They rise from rocky soil and reach for the sky. Their canopies catch the sun’s rays, feeding their growth and leaving the ground in shade. The physical labor in cutting down any one of the trees would be great, but that isn’t quite what Hall sees as tough.

He purchased the property in the early 1950s. Twelve years earlier, all the timber had been cut from the land. “Cut recklessly,” he says.

Remembering when he walked the property before buying it, he offers a forester’s measure of what he found. “The average tree was two inches in diameter at chest height,” he says. The trees were small and scrawny.

“I had all sorts of dreams for the property,” Hall recalls. He thought he might clear the land and raise cattle or maybe he’d grow Christmas trees. In the end, he says, “I didn’t do anything. I let nature take its course.”

It was the kindest gift he could give to the land. Hall was patient, the years passed and, with his gentle assistance, nature has grown an oak, hickory and beech forest.

“The natural growth pattern of the trees,” he explains, “is to come back in brush and pioneer trees, which would be the pines. They grow fast, die early and create the humus that allows the squirrels to come in and drop their nuts. You get hickory, oak and tulip poplar because the squirrels like to carry those seeds around. It’s a natural regeneration.”

Hall’s heritage ties him to the land. His ancestors came to Anne Arundel County in 1695. Most were farmers and, like them, Hall spent his early childhood on a farm in Millersville. Other than a stint at Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II, he has lived in the county all his life.
His father became a surveyor when their branch of the family stopped farming. Hall eventually took over his father’s business.

It was his father who awakened in him the deeper stirrings he still feels.

“When I was quite young,” says Hall, “I remember my father taking me for a walk. It was right after a big rainstorm. He led me down to Johns Hopkins Road where our farm was, and he had a shovel with him. The road had flooded, so he took his shovel and opened up the ditch and the culvert and he said to me, ‘This water is going to the South River, but up at the house, the water will go to the Patuxent River. This is a ridge farm.’”

“I’ve never forgotten that,” Hall adds. “That was my first introduction to the watershed.”

Hall’s land was first mined for bog iron, iron ore found in rocks. Then it was worked by tenant farmers. Today, in its rugged terrain, Hall reads the harsh use of the land and the rushing of water.

“Now, this is just supposition,” he says, “but after the land was abandoned to mining, it was farmed by tenant farmers. And they didn’t know about soil conservation. So the marshes at the head of the South River are filled with the topsoil off of the properties around it.

“In 1700, it was probably good soil, but in 1921, they couldn’t even afford to farm it.
“I’d have about an eighth of an inch of topsoil, if it weren’t for the leaves. The topsoil is all washed out and that’s why the land is rough and all ravines.”

Heedful of the damage done, Hall shouldered the job of preservation and had his property designated a tree farm

To follow in Hall’s footsteps to Maryland’s Tree Farm Program, landowners must have at least 10 acres of woodland. Tree farmers are helped to develop their forest management plans by the Department of Natural Resources Forest Service. Such plans may have secondary goals, like producing wood or protecting wildlife and watersheds. Or they may be as simple and direct as growth, beauty and pleasure.

Forest growth has been one of Hall’s goals. He will not cut down any trees on his farm without the approval of the Forest Service. Even then, cuttings are done only for “timber stand improvement,” with weaker trees cut to help the stronger trees grow.

Hall also helps nature maintain the balance between predator and prey. He gathers branches that have fallen from the trees and piles them up, creating small thickets in which birds, chipmunks, and rabbits can escape from the foxes and coyotes.

A conservation easement for the tree farm is his next step. Under such an easement, Hall would give up the property’s development rights to a land trust. The farm would forever remain in its natural state as the easement “runs with the land” and would bind future owners.

Maryland and its counties support a wide variety of land trusts. The quasi-public Maryland Environmental Trust holds hundreds of easements covering more than 85,000 acres across the state. In contrast, the Severn River watershed is the focus of the private Severn River Land Trust, which has 15 easements that protect approximately 180 acres.

Purchasing land instead of holding easements has been the focus of the American Chestnut Trust Land Trust, located in Port Republic. The trust owns 810 acres and allows public access to the land for Boy Scout camps, birders, researchers, hay rides and canoe trips.

No matter their origin or size, the trusts all have one purpose: land preservation.

Landowners donate or make a charitable gift of their development rights to a land trust. Such gifts are called conservation easements. Significant federal, state and local property and estate tax credits compensate the owner for the decreased value of the land.

At the same time, conservation easements benefit not only the landowner but all of us in Bay County by protecting the watershed, providing habitat for wildlife and maintaining open space.

In some cases, the state or county may purchase the development rights. These programs require large, contiguous tracts of land (often at least 50 acres) and soil conservation and land management plans. Local, private land trusts will accept donations for land as small as half an acre and require only that the property be left untouched.

“Landowners may have a misperception that selling to a developer is the best way to get the value out of the land,” says Greg Bowen, Calvert County’s deputy director for planning and zoning. “But land preservation programs can be very competitive. They are a viable option.”

To educate others on the need to protect the environment and keep Anne Arundel County residents enjoying the outdoors, Hall reaches out as a volunteer. He is a member of the Severn River Association and for many years led the association’s monthly nature walks. He is also an honorary board member of the Severn River Land Trust, has worked with the Boy Scouts and as a volunteer with the Smithsonian Institution’s Tree Canopy Research Program.

Most recently, Ned was honored as the 2001 recipient of the Jan Hollmann Environmental Education Award.

Jan Hollmann worked to protect the Bay and was the driving force behind the creation of the Severn River Land Trust. After her untimely death from cancer, family and friends created the award in her memory. It is presented annually to recognize notable achievement in environmental education in Anne Arundel County.

The Severn River Land Trust and Hall’s son, Jon, nominated him for the award.

“Ned teaches in a way that is so compelling, you just want to hear everything he has to say,” explains Sandra Parks-Trusz, executive director of the Land Trust. “He has affected thousands and thousands of people.”

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Hall tries to deflect the attention. “I got that award because of my children,” he says.

The eldest, Anne, works for the U.S. Forestry Service in Idaho restoring old logging roads to their natural state. Ted and Jon live in Anne Arundel County and are teachers. Jon teaches science and has worked with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

At Shipley’s Choice Elementary School, Ted and his students planted a meadow as a buffer to stop the soil erosion on school property. Ted also started a program that earned the school its proud title as a “green school.” Being “green” requires teaching environmental education as well as recycling and reducing the amount of energy consumed by the school.

Dressed in tennis shoes, a faded flannel shirt and khaki pants, Hall walks the farm and examines the trees. He keeps a catalogue of them, listing their types, their uses and whether one is a den tree with a hole to shelter animals.

When he stops, he points to a tree and says, “I should have cut that one down years ago.”

At its base, the tree’s trunk has grown in a jagged S-curve. But somehow the tree managed to straighten itself. It too grows tall and reaches for the sun. Yes, it’s a tough job to cut down a tree.

More information? Browse these websites:

To find all Maryland Land Trusts

Specific State Trusts

Trusts in this story

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly