Under proposed DNR ownership, Holly Beach Farms would ultimately offer public waterfront access. Photo: AJ Metcalf/CBF

Maryland DNR Takes Over Holly Beach Farm, Public Access Planned

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Holly Beach Farm is going to a new owner and public waterfront access will finally be part of its future.

CBF has owned the 293-acre property, just south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on the Anne Arundel County side, since 2002. Adjacent to the former Bay ferry sllip, it was a horse farm until CBF acquired it using $8 million in Program Open Space, National Park Service, and Transportation Enhancement funds, intended for conservation and “limited environmental education”, according to the Bay foundation.

Since then, a large scale restoration has been done on the site’s agricultural land and eroding shorelines. It has become a “staging and wintering area” for migratory waterfowl and a nesting site for herons and bald eagles, CBF says. It’s significant because of its freshwater pond adjacent to the brackish Bay.

Now, CBF is proposing to transfer its 293 acres to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Over the last twenty years, with generous support from donors and like-minded organizations, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has had the privilege of stewarding its part of Holly Beach Farm through significant investment in maintenance, restoration, and educational programming. We are so pleased that the State of Maryland has stepped forward with its tremendous resources to continue the conservation and management of this special natural area,” said Hilary Harp Falk, CBF’s President and CEO. 

Falk says it is time for a new steward. In October, CBF announced it was seeking an owner “with a proven ability to manage conserved lands in a way that honors the intent of the original funders and continues conservation efforts while respecting the sensitivity of the property’s neighbors.”

At the time, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley championed the National Park Trust as Holly Beach Farm’s next steward. They released a letter revealing their hope the property would become “the crown jewel of the Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA)” proposed for the Bay. They also wanted to use Holly Beach Farm as a launch site for a network of electric ferries to be used as public transit between Annapolis, Baltimore, and other sites on both sides of the Bay.

Ultimately, DNR was chosen instead. Once approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works, the state’s natural resources department will take possession in a no-fee transfer of the waterfront property. 

DNR Secretary Josh Kurtz calls the acquisition a “once-in-a-generation” chance for public benefit.

“Holly Beach Farm represents a fantastic opportunity to enable waterfront access and wildlife viewing in Anne Arundel County. At the same time, the location near the Bay Bridge presents challenges that the agency intends to address by working closely with nearby residential communities.”

DNR says specific plans for the property will be developed with public input from neighboring landowners and other individuals.

“We envision providing the public, in a scaled and prescriptive manner, a chance to experience Holly Beach in a way that teaches about and protects the unique habitats and natural communities on this remarkable peninsula,” said Paul Peditto, DNR’s Assistant Secretary of Land Resources.