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Civil War reenactors at Point Lookout State Park Maryland's state parks grew out of the state's early efforts at forest conservation. By 1912, a portion of the Patapsco Forest Reserve had been developed and dedicated specifically for public recreational use, and as early as 1910 this parcel had been referred to as "Patapsco Park." Campers, picnickers and swimmers flocked out of Baltimore to rusticate alongside the Patapsco River. Now a 14,000 acre, 32 mile long state park, Patapsco serves annually about 75,000 visitors.
Similarly, in 1922, the state purchased another forest reserve/park (it's called both in early records). It was Fort Frederick, a ruined relic of the French and Indian War, which historic preservationists wanted protected and restored by the state. Now a 600 acre state park, with the partially restored fort, Fort Frederick annually serves 127,000 visitors, especially history lovers.

Forest Conservation
Forestry was the initial impulse, and it came in the early 20th century. At this time, Maryland's forest resources, all privately owned, were in a state of near total devastation. Two and a half centuries of rapacious civilization, and especially the tactics of get-rich-quick, cut-and-run lumbermen, had left the state with scarcely a stand of first growth timber. Unchecked forest fires and erosion worsened the situation.

Photo of clear cut forest - 1920'sTo challenge Maryland state government into doing something about this situation, brothers John and Robert Garrett, heirs to the B&O Railroad fortune, donated nearly 2,000 acres of cut-over land in Garrett County to the state on the condition that the state institute policies and governmental machinery to begin scientific management of this and other potential Maryland forest resources.

The state responded accordingly, passing a forestry law in 1906 establishing an official Board of Forestry to oversee acquisition and wise management of this and other forest reserves, provide for a system of forest fire suppression, hire a state forester, and to provide technical assistance to private owners of woodlots. (The Garrett bequest is now part of Potomac and Garrett State Forests in Garrett County.) Though this law is mostly about forestry, tucked in it, in a section detailing the duties of the state forester, is reference to "the protection and improvement of state parks and forest reserves." Other than that, there is nothing specific about state parks. However, the following year, another publicly spirited citizen named John Glen donated 43 acres along the Patapsco, the nucleus of Patapsco Forest Reserve -- and Maryland's first true state park.

Fred W. Besley at work in his office - 1945 A priority for the Board of Forestry was of course the appointment of Maryland's first state forester whose responsibility was to execute the will of the legislature under direction of the Board of Forestry. The job fell to a young man named Fred W. Besley, a Yale-trained professional forester and protege of Gifford Pinchot, the famous first U.S. Forester. Besley would serve as Maryland's state forester until his retirement in 1942 at age 70.

Besley deserves great credit for establishing both wide forest conservation and a system of parks in Maryland. He was an indefatigable advocate of wise forest conservation, even long after his retirement. One of his first accomplishments as state forester was personally to find, inventory and record every stand of trees in the state larger than five acres! It took him years of traveling by train, horse and foot, later recalling "I tramped every cow path in Maryland." In 1916 he published in a memorable book, The Forests of Maryland, the results of his work. Fred Besley was the embodiment of ethical public service and natural resource conservation.

Forests as Parks
picnic scene at Patapsco State Park - 1921
State forest land acquisition continued apace, and along with it, public expectation of recreational use of public forest preserves. Stephan Ting Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, was a strong advocate of systems of state parks to supplement the burgeoning system of national parks. Fred Besley routinely recognized the need for state parks in his forestry work. In 1923, Governor Albert C. Ritchie overhauled the state's unwieldy system of 85 independent boards and commissions, such as the Board of Forestry, reducing them to 14. Forestry, in the form of a five-man forestry advisory board, was placed under auspices of the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland, because that body was regarded as non-political (Besley fought hard to keep politics out of forestry), and because Besley was teaching forestry at the University. Besley and his nascent staff became the Department of Forestry, charged with executing the forestry policies of the Board of Regents, acting on advice from the forestry advisory board.

Family playing croquet at camp site in Patapsco Forest reserve - 1921This arrangement continued satisfactorily until 1936 when H.C. "Curly" Byrd assumed the presidency of the University of Maryland. Dedicated to building a first class institution, and little interested in forestry, Byrd expropriated the Department's budget for other uses, and ordered Besley and his staff to relocate from Baltimore to the University, where Byrd could exercise close control. The advisory board resigned in protest, and the whole issue became a hot political one in the state. Besley refused to relocate. The forest wardens and other concerned Marylanders appealed to Governor Herbert R. O'Connor and the Board of Public Works. Finally the legislature provided relief in 1941 by consolidating all state conservation agencies, including forestry, under a new Board of Natural Resources, totally independent of the University.

The 1941 law took cognizance of the emergence of parks in forests. It recast the old forestry department as the Department of State Forests and Parks. Besley was succeeded in 1942 by Joseph F. Kaylor, another trained forester, who was styled Director of State Forests and Parks. Kaylor was a strong advocate of stream valley state parks, like Patapsco and Gunpowder. His assistant, H.C. Buckingham, worked avidly to fund the development of recreation areas within the forest reserves, especially at New Germany and Herrington Manor. Still, even though parks now had official parity with forests, for two more decades the forestry agenda would dominate.

The Civilian Conservation Corp
Civilian Convervation Corp worker on roof of cabin at Herrington Manor State Park - 1930's
By the early 1940's, considerable Maryland public forest lands had been developed for recreational use as parks, thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.). The C.C.C. was a massive Federal works program during the Great Depression. In Maryland, the C.C.C. put a total of 30,000 young men to work reclaiming natural resources and building facilities for public accommodation in the out of doors. The C.C.C. built lakes, cabins, pavilions, trails, campgrounds and other visitor amenities all over the state, though principally in Western Maryland.


cannon posed at Fort Frederick stone wall where cannon hole appearsThe C.C.C.'s also restored Fort Frederick's wall and reconstructed the Washington Monument (originally built in 1827) near Boonsboro. Herrington Manor, Swallow Falls, New Germany, Washington Monument, Gambrill, Fort Frederick, Patapsco, Elk Neck and Pocomoke River State Parks were the primary beneficiaries of C.C.C. park development, and in fact, most of the C.C.C.-built facilities are still in use across Maryland's state forests and parks.

The Great Depression and World War II deferred public benefit from this largess, but in the late 1940's and 1950's, with the return of prosperity, and a newly mobile American public (cars, roads and leisure time), there was a boom in public demand for outdoor recreational opportunities.

Outdoor Recreation

The original 1906 Forestry Act authorizes the State Board of Forestry to accept donations of land and “to direct the protection and improvement of (1) state parks and (2) forest reserves.” We can make a strong case that Fred Besley was an early advocate for outdoor recreation on State forest lands. He was still State Forester in 1941 when the Department left the University of Maryland and became the Maryland Department of State Forests and Parks. Mr. Besley must have supported the adding of “parks” to the agency’s name.

Starting in the post war, late 1940s and on into the 1950s, the demand for outdoor recreation grew at an alarming rate. The Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park was surveyed as the most densely used recreation site in young women crossing foot bridge at Swallow FallsMaryland. On Friday nights at Swallow Falls, we created overflow campsites rather than turn people away. The CCC facilities were wonderful, except there just wasn’t enough of them to meet the growing popular demand.

The Department responded to the demand for parks by hiring “District Park Supervisors.” Ralph Peace, Don MacLaughlan and Dave Hathway were three of the originals who worked under the District Foresters exclusively on State parks and State forest recreation areas in their respected districts under Bill Johnson, Joe Henderson and John Mohr. So the Department supported the park effort with some funds and some staff. But it was just the start of expanding and increasing state park initiatives.

Meanwhile, the extensive forestry programs, now with 50 years of progress, had won numerous budget battles, and was well staffed and funded and doing important work reforesting the State and knocking down forest fires. But also, forestry was advancing and slowly initiating a state park program for Maryland that, in time, would evolve into one of the nation’s premiere systems of state parks. This is a significant contribution. However, the State parks administration would need to grow, establish federal funding, and earn its place in the State budget just like forestry had done. State funding was tight and it would take almost 20 years of educating and constituency building before Maryland state parks would be funded and staffed to the extent that forestry had grown in 50 years.

woman horseback rider mounted on horse in State ParkThe rapid growth of the Maryland State Park Service got a big boost from the overwhelming post-war demand for outdoor recreation. This was more than just a Maryland problem. In fact, every state was experiencing an overwhelming demand for outdoor recreation opportunities. The recommendations of Lawrence Rockefeller’s Outdoor Recreation Resource Review Commission gave President Johnson the justification to ask Congress for enactment of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This federal program provided federal assistance to every state and the National Parks and Forest to expand public outdoor recreation opportunities.

So in 1966, with the availability of matching Federal funding, Maryland began to increase its State park staff and its State park budget. Subsequent to the availability of federal funding, when J. Millard Tawes was elected Governor in 1962, he appointed Sam Hammerman as Chairman of the State Forests and Parks Commission. Mr. Hammerman was dedicated to the concept of expanding Maryland’s state park network to attract tourists to spend more time and more money in Maryland. Governor Tawes supported Sam Hammerman’s goals to improve the State parks. Mr. Hammerman wanted a park professional to be Director of Maryland’s Department of Forests and Parks to accelerate the expansion of the State park system.

Many organizations rallied to the support of the long tradition, supported by State law, of having a professional forester as Director of the Department of Forests and Parks. However, the outdoor recreation demand was so strong and backed by public support, that the decision was made to place Spencer P. Ellis, a landscape architect and park professional from Texas in the Director’s job.

Preserving History
The Department of Natural Resources is the largest proprietor of historic sites in Maryland, maintaining over 500 buildings of historical significance on 259 sites across the state, mostly in state parks. Historic landscapes abound throughout Maryland's public lands. Among the more stellar of these historic structures are Fort Frederick, a colonial fortification in Washington County; Smallwood's "Retreat," a restored colonial dwelling in Charles County; Catoctin Furnace, an iron factory dating from the Revolutionary War in Frederick County; and two historic mill complexes in Harford County.

Significant parts of the South Mountain Battlefield, a Civil War site in Frederick and Washington counties, are within South Mountain State Park. The largest Civil War prison camp was at Point Lookout, now a state park in St. Mary's County. Camp Stanton, a Civil War recruiting and training depot for African-Americans joining the Union Army, stood on DNR public lands in Charles County. Stream valley parks in Maryland, such as Gunpowder Falls, Patapsco Valley, Patuxent River and Seneca Creek, are loaded with sites of mills, factories, heads of navigation and other remains of human activity from a time when water power was the best way to run machinery and waterways were a more important means of transportation than roads.

In addition, the State Forest and Park Service offers unique programs with ranger portrayals of historic characters, and sponsors a variety of living history events throughout the year featuring the color and pageantry of three centuries of Maryland history.

Program Open Space
Meanwhile, under the direction of Spencer Ellis, the Maryland Division of State Parks built a large staff of young, professional park planners to prepare a bold new program of state park land acquisition and capital development. Master plans tumbled forth proposing golf courses, swimming pools, lodges, visitor centers, amphitheaters and other ambitious amenities. The Maryland Outdoor Recreation Land Loan Act of 1969, which established Program Open Space (POS), along with Federal aid, made possible accelerated park acquisition, but there was never a concomitant commitment of funding for facility development or, especially, for operation and maintenance.

Program Open Space imposed a one-half of one percent tax on all real estate title transfers in Maryland, with the proceeds dedicated to the acquisition and development of park lands. Half the money was retained at the state level for land acquisition only, and the other half went to counties and municipalities, which could use their share for both acquisition and development. A unit named "Program Open Space" handled acquisition for the state and parceled out the local government's shares. Additional matching funds came from a Federal source called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which vastly increased the largess.

In its first 20 years, Program Open Space added nearly 60,000 acres to Maryland's state park holdings, a 57 percent increase. POS was reauthorized in 1989, and is yet augmenting state park holdings, though since the 1980's, federal matches have dropped off precipitously (there have been no Federal appropriations for the past several years). POS has been wildly successful in saving natural lands from loss due to commercial and residential development. The legislature fully funded six of the ambitious master plans of the 1960's (Point Lookout, Cunningham Falls, Greenbrier, Shad Landing (now Pocomoke River), Elk Neck and Deep Creek Lake State Parks). Others were only partially funded, and many not at all.

Recent History
Meantime, state government continued to reorganize the governmental machinery that administered parks. In 1969, Governor Marvin Mandel adopted a cabinet form of government for the state and established today's Department of Natural Resources, with a cabinet level Secretary to report to him. Former Governor J. Millard Tawes was the first Secretary of Natural Resources. Once again, all of the state's disparate natural resources management entities were consolidated under the new Department of Natural Resources. The functions of the old Department of State Forests and Parks were subsumed under DNR, and in 1972 those functions were split into three distinct agencies, the Maryland Forest Service (under Pete Bond), the Maryland Park Service (with Bill Parr once again in charge of parks), and the Capital Programs Administration (under Deputy Secretary Louis N. Phipps, Jr.), which handled capital acquisition (including Program Open Space) and capital development.

Upon the retirements of the directors of forests and parks, about 1978, the two agencies were united under Donald E. MacLauchlan, Bill Parr's assistant director of parks, but a trained forester. Eventually, DNR's wildlife component was added, but the arrangement proved unwieldy. After MacLauchlan's retirement in 1991, wildlife and cooperative forestry were split out of the park equation. Dave Hathway became Park Service director after MacLauchlan.

Today, the Maryland Forest Service manages nearly 200,000 acres of public forestland and the Maryland Park Service manages 131,000 acres of public parkland. Together they log over 12 million visitors per year.

As Maryland’s forest and park professionals celebrate a century of conservation and service, they like Fred Besley, also look to the future and the challenges ahead. Foremost among them is managing for competing user groups – balancing the need to conserve resources and manage for sustainability, while encouraging enjoyment.

In so doing, they must continuously assess cultural, environmental and economic needs, recreational, industry and tourism trends and visitor demographics and needs to ensure these public treasures evolve along with their customers, the natural ecosystem and resource-based industry. A tall order for the next hundred years? Perhaps. But Maryland’s public land managers are up to the task.

The Next 100 Years

The Centennial Celebration of Maryland Forestry and State Parks offer us an opportunity to think about future generations and how our environmental stewardship will benefit them. We can also try to envision how they will preserve, protect, enhance and enjoy Maryland’s public lands 100 years from now.

During this 2006 Centennial Year, we have begun to prepare a Centennial Time Capsule to be opened in the year 2106. The gifts we choose to send forth to those who will follow will include information and artifacts about the work we do today and our message to those in the future. A century from now, these will be priceless treasures to future generations.

As DNR staff determines what to include in this “capsule of time”, we would like to know what you think! What do you think would be important to those who will open this time capsule 100 years from now?

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