Somerset County is located on Marylandís Eastern Shore and is the stateís southernmost county. The county is generally flat, with good agricultural soils punctuated by areas of poorly drained wetlands and a high water table. Much of the county is subject to Critical Area and other environmental regulations due to its considerable tidal and non-tidal wetland resources. The countyís character varies from fishing communities and summer homes, to marshland and wilderness. In 1998, Somerset County had an estimated population of 24,230 and is projected to reach 25,400 by 2010. Principal land uses in the county are agriculture and forestry, both of which contribute to Somersetís rural character as well as open space opportunities. DNR owns over 29,000 acres in Somerset County.
Agricultural preservation has become increasingly successful among local farmers. As of 1996, 25 agricultural districts were formed (a total of 4,076 acres.) Over 1,750 acres are under agricultural easement. Forest resources increased from 85,000 acres in 1965 to 87,200 acres in 1985 (USDA Forest Service). Conservation easements under the Lower Shore Land Trust covered an additional 700 acres. The Maryland Environmental Trust holds easements on approximately 2,141 acres in Somerset County.
The Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Committee (LESHC) began its work in 1993 with the adoption of an action plan. Since then the three Lower Shore counties, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester have received Recognition Status from the Maryland Heritage Authority. The LESHC has been successfully fielding projects which include informational kiosks along the Beach to Bay American Indian Trail and nearby sites and numerous brochures on history and the cultural background of the area. The committee is currently developing a management plan necessary for state certification as a heritage area.
The county covers approximately 209,390 land acres. Sixty-eight percent (68%) or 142,385 acres are zoned agricultural. Agricultural lands are located in the central northern, middle, and southern portions of the county. Based on the 1990 Developed Lands Study, only three percent of Somerset Countyís land area is developed. The remaining 97% is either agricultural, forest, wetland, or other open space land.
The prevalence of agricultural and forested lands, as well as vast areas of tidal wetland, has preserved the rural character of the county and affords many opportunities for greenways now and in the future. The Somerset County Land Preservation and Recreation Plan designates six greenways corridors through the county. These consist of four riparian greenways and two trails. All of these greenways link natural and historic elements between rivers and larger bodies of water to inland trails. Several are multi-county efforts aimed at encouraging regional tourism.
The Somerset County Zoning Ordinance (1992) allows clustering in seven districts. Cluster zoning authorizes the reduction of lot sizes to provide for recreation and to serve the needs of residents of a development. The retained lands of each lot are to be used by the development in open space areas, in natural vegetation, or utilized as commercial forest land or farmland.
The Janes Island Water Trail traverses more than 30 miles through the vast Chesapeake Bay saltmarsh that makes up Janes Island State Park. In 2000, a full color brochure and map of the water trail system was produced. Maryland DNR is in the process of developing programming materials, a nature center, and interpretive displays to complement the water trail.
2) Manokin River Greenways
The Manokin River Greenways is a potential greenways along the Manokin River. This corridor would link the county-owned Raccoon Point Recreation Area at the mouth of the river with the Manokin River Park in the town of Princess Anne and finally with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Campus (UMES). The town of Princess Anne has developed a draft Comprehensive Plan (1996) which recommends the development of a canoe route consistent with threatened and endangered species habitat, an educational nature trail, and a memorial to town veterans in conjunction with the existing town park. Extension of a bike trail or greenways from the proposed UMES access road and east to the park is also envisioned. The Somerset County Draft Comprehensive Plan (1996) also supports linking the university campus with Manokin Park and Raccoon Point as part of bicycle/pedestrian enhancements.
2a) Manokin River Water Trail
The Manokin River Water Trail is a potential water trail route along the Manokin River.
3) Pocomoke River Regional Greenways
The Pocomoke River Regional Greenways is a potential multi-county greenways along the Pocomoke River. Representatives from Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties have been considering options for preserving and promoting the Pocomoke River. The river has many natural and historical attributes that could be used to draw visitors and provide long-term protection for the river and the surrounding landscape. The Pocomoke River is the only state-designated Scenic River on the Eastern Shore.
Protected land along the river in Somerset County is currently limited to wetland areas and one parcel under easement with the Maryland Environmental Trust. In Worcester County portions of the river are protected by the Pocomoke River State Forest and Lankfordís Discovery Heritage Conservation area.
4) Pocomoke Sound Greenways
The Pocomoke Sound Greenways is an existing greenways consisting of three protected land parcels connected by wetlands along the southern border of the county. The corridor includes two portions of the Pocomoke Sound Wildlife Management Area, (about 1,950 acres), a large parcel protected by the Maryland Ornithological Society, and Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area which protects about 2,900 acres. This greenways corridor provides environmental protection and wildlife habitat. Hunting is permitted in the state-owned wildlife management areas.
5) Tangier Sound Greenways
The Tangier Sound Greenways is an existing greenways consisting of several land parcels connected by water routes. In Somerset County, this corridor includes the 2,800-acre Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area, the 3,100-acre Janes Island State Park, the 4,000-acre Fairmount Wildlife Management Area, and the 13,000-acre Deal Island Wildlife Management Area. The South Marsh Island (approximately 3,000 acres), Smith Island, and Martin National Wildlife Refuge on the west side of the channel are also considered a part of this greenways.
This greenways corridor extends up Tangier Sound to the Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area in Wicomico County and Dorchester Countyís Fishing Bay Greenways through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Taylorís Island Wildlife Management Area. The greenways corridor provides a buffer that enhances water quality in Tangier Sound and provides wildlife habitat and a waterfowl flyway. It connects to the Pocomoke Sound Greenways and forms a buffer along most of the shoreline in Somerset County. It may be possible to provide a connection to the countyís Great Hope golf course which is adjacent to Rt. 13.
6) Westover to Crisfield Rail Trail
The Westover to Crisfield Rail Trail is a potential rail trail along the inactive Pennsylvania Railroad corridor stretching between Westover and Crisfield. The right-of-way runs along Rt. 13 and leads to the Somers Cove Marina. The corridor is presently owned by the Maryland Department of Transportation, and the tracks have been removed. The need to eventually widen Rt. 413 to four lanes must be considered in any plans that impact this corridor.