(Sept. 27, 2019) Maryland’s Program Open Space, which was established 50 years ago along with the Department of Natural Resources, is continuing its mission to fund land acquisitions for communities to enjoy in perpetuity.
Worcester County Director of Recreation and Parks Tom Perlozzo reflected on his previous involvement with using Program Open Space funds to develop North Side Park while serving as the top parks and recreation director in Ocean City from 1985 to 1997.
“Program Open Space is really the cornerstone of land acquisition and project development in all cities and counties across Maryland,” he said.
Over the last 50 years, DNR officials reported that Program Open Space has help fund the purchase of more than 342,000 acres of land, which comprises 219 state parks and forests, as well as wildlife management and nature areas.
Statewide, since 1969 Program Open Space has assisted local jurisdictions preserve more than 48,000 acres of parklands. The list of amenities includes playgrounds, tennis courts, sports fields, park facilities, swimming pools, hiking/biking trails, forests, wildlife areas, fishing/hunting areas, boat-launching ramps, historical sites, along with shoreline access spots for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Perlozzo said before the 1980s, Northside Park was a mere shadow of the current site.
“There was a single-building recreation center with the land adjacent and that kicked things off in the late 1970s,” he said. “Through the funds that Program Open Space provided, we were able to develop the baseball fields, soccer fields and the playground.”
DNR officials said nearly every Maryland resident lives within 15 minutes of public parks or preserved lands, with Program Open Space continuing to serve as a national model for land conservation.
To raise funds for land acquisitions by local jurisdictions, a real estate transfer tax of half a percent was enacted as part of Program Open Space.
Following an initial award to Northside Park of more than $400,000 in February 1980, an additional $119,000 was granted in 1986, followed by $273,000 in 1987.
“In 1985-1986, that’s when we took advantage of the outdoor recreation Program Open Space money,” he said. “We were using Program Open Space for the actual building. However, when we moved outside and expanded the footprint in north Ocean City, that’s when we [really] took advantage of that money.
“What happened was we were able to create a foundation for the project [and] show some great need,” he said. “Today it is carried out by the current director Susan Petito [who has] done a terrific job maintaining the park and taking advantage of Program Open Space funds as they become available.”
Before the creation of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 1969, the Board of Forestry, established in 1906, took the first action to preserve open spaces by purchasing parcels for conservation ends.
During the President Theodore Roosevelt administration, environmental concerns began to fuel public sentiments for conservation.
The Board of Forestry was drawn up as part of an arrangement with the Garrett brothers, John and Robert, who in 1906 donated more than 1,900 acres of mountainous woodlands in their namesake county.
The area, which now comprises part of the Potomac-Garrett State Forest near Swallow Falls, was donated on the condition the natural environment was maintained.
Now that he’s overseeing development of recreational opportunities countywide, Perlozzo said he will be seeking Program Open Space money for Worcester’s benefit.
“What the County Commissioners are tasking is the creative concept of taking advantage of Program Open Space in all areas of the county,” he said. “There is some strategic discussion going on as it relates to Ocean City, Berlin, Snow Hill and Pocomoke.”
Perlozzo said a five-year development plan is being created to identify potential projects.
“Typically, the state provides an allocation on an annual basis,” he said. “In some of those years, when the state was fiscally not as sound as it is maybe today, there wasn’t any Program Open Space money [but] recently we’ve been able to once again get funding from the state.”