For over 30 years, Pickering Creek Audubon Center has been the destination for students from Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester and Wicomico Counties to discover and connect with the natural world through exploration, science and engaged learning. During that same time, its 400 acres has offered a haven for individuals, community groups and families of all kinds who seek the peace, enjoyment, exercise and magical sightings that nature provides.
The Center completed a Master Site Plan in 2016 and Strategic Plan in 2020. One of the highlights of both of those plans is expanding the habitat and trails that are part of Pickering. As a result of their Master Site Plan, eleven acres were donated to the Center in 2016. In 2018, Pickering leadership began a process with a neighboring landowner who holds two of the four highest priority parcels for the Center. The definition of high priority parcels is twofold. First, those that pose both a risk to guests experience at the center as well as disrupt local habitat if they are logged or are developed as home sites. Second, parcels that have the best opportunity for creating more outdoor exploration opportunities for our community on new trails. The pandemic stalled the process for a while, but last fall discussions began again with the landowner. Over the course of the pandemic other neighborhood parcels have been logged, which underscores the importance of preserving remaining forest habitat in the County as well as gives a stark reminder of what can happen on parcels near the center. Discussions with the neighbor highlighted his desire to recoop his original investment through either logging the parcels or developing three home sites on them.
A steadfast supporter of the center offered a generous opening gift to get the process started. In March the two parcels, totalling 63 acres were put under contract for Pickering and our fundraising effort began. We have now raised 80% of the funds required to acquire the parcels, create trails, integrate the parcels into the centers overall campus, ensure we can maintain them over time and seed future protection of neighboring lands.
When students from near and far visit the Center we seek to give them a phenomenal outdoor experience that allows them to practice scientific methods in the field as well as truly experience the wonder and natural beauty of wild, undeveloped space. What makes that experience work so well is the Center’s ability to showcase the flowers and trees and frequent wildlife sightings that get kids (and adults) excited about being outside. Nothing beats seeing a northern harrier scream by or watching two eagles tangle with each other overhead. These experiences are as much a result of our own property management as the land use of our neighbors.
Pickering Creek Audubon Center surrounds these parcels on three sides, sharing in total 1.28 miles of common border. South of the parcels is our main campus’ back meadow, which includes a new trail and viewing platform. North of the parcels is Pickering’s Peterson Woods. On the eastern side, across Pickering Creek’s headwaters, and only 125 feet at its closest and 325 feet at its farthest, visible from our main campus’ “Farm to Bay Trail” that winds its way through the woods, which serves as the primary classroom for 70% of our school groups.
The landowner of these parcels purchased the two parcels in 2006 at the peak of the real estate market, envisioning them as a place for family hunting and recreation and possibly a retirement home in the future. Much has changed since 2006. The real estate market has declined significantly, depressing the value of the parcels, and the interests of the owners have evolved. The landowners have since subdivided the two parcels into three parcels, and have indicated interest in doing some degree of logging, stating that “the woods are ready but the market is not.” The landowner’s intent is to begin installation of septic systems, utilities and an entry drive through to the three parcels, as shown by some of the permits now in hand to carry out these “upgrades” in an effort to recoup the initial investment with a sale to owners ready and able to build up to three houses.
In Pickering’s eyes, the parcels are perfect for Pickering Creek and this community exactly as is.
Any of the modifications to these parcels proposed by the owner diminish their ultimate value for Pickering and this community, which means the time to act is NOW. We have seen firsthand the effects of timbering in the neighborhood recently. Timbering that occurred adjacent to our Peterson Woods parcel has not only diminished the beauty of the place in the near 5-10 year term, but has also caused significant expense in clearing the subsequent blow downs of remaining trees and limited our ability to use that portion of our campus in the ways we would like. We need to avoid these and other detrimental outcomes with the parcels that border the main campus of Pickering Creek. Two waterfront homes overlooking the Centers main campus would significantly diminish the wild and remote experience in the great outdoors that Pickering is known for and provides for the community.
From the most basic of needs, acquisition of these parcels would protect the wild experience for school students, summer campers, hikers, paddlers and essentially all of our guests to the Center. It would protect the gem that Pickering Creek is to Talbot County, and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
We have negotiated with the owner an acceptable price, and have a contract in place, contingent on raising sufficient funds by September 2022 to purchase these 63 acres. Including funds to design and implement a trail system with associated signage which is fully incorporated into the existing Pickering campus, assure future care of the property and seed future land protection around the Center we need to raise $2.5 million.
An additional 63 acres of woods to explore will offer the community and students who visit Pickering at least two miles of new trails through a spectacular woodland adding to the existing trail system and connecting the main campus with the Peterson Woods. New trails will offer great walks through mature woods, and all the wildlife sightings that come with undeveloped land that provides critical habitat in the vicinity. Bushy tailed red fox and a gang of wild turkeys has been spotted marching through the woods, along with countless songbirds and this spring’s salamander eggs in the vernal pools. Spring woodland wildflowers abound, chorus frogs happily sing on spring nights, Barred Owls nest in beech tree hollows and mountain laurel flourishes. There are two notable creek overlooks, with views of the Center’s main campus woods directly across the creek. Two streams with amphibian laden vernal pools run through the property adding nice diversity to the habitats we already have. All of this could be protected from development and logging, and shared instead with visitors young and old.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having the resource of trails and outdoor exploration for our community. Since the pandemic began, we have seen drastically more people using the Center’s trails, many of whom are first time trail users. The trails provided a chance for many to decompress, be away from their home in a safe place, spend time safely with family and friends, and find solace during difficult times.
With your help, Pickering Creek Audubon Center will be able to offer increased green space for the public to explore and expand the places for children to explore as they develop their understanding of natural systems and the part they play in them. By connecting people of all ages to birds, the habitats they need to survive, and the unparalleled beauty of the Chesapeake Bay region, we can inspire this and future generations to steward their surroundings. To learn more visit: http://pickeringcreek.org/getinvolved/morespacetoconnect/