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WHO WILL  SAVE THE LAND? A Short History of a Long-Standing Effort to Protect Land in Catonsville

As attendees feasted on a harvest spread offered by hosts Joan and Marc Plisko in Catonsville on September 21, NeighborSpace board member Eric Rockel spoke about our latest acquisition just a stone's throw away, a property key to the evening's theme of bringing the 40 plus attendees closer to conservation work in our community.

In Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America, ecologist Richard Brewer writes that "[n]early every locality has lands that were bought, protected, and cherished by individuals or families and, but for their efforts, would now be merely part of the general background sprawl." Brewer notes, further, that "sometimes the persons who save a piece of land are wealthy ... but often they're of modest means, rich only in their ownership of a well-beloved and well-stewarded part of the earth."

Such is the case in Catonsville, where a local builder’s plans for a townhome community on one of the last remaining tracts in the Dunmore neighborhood in 1967 spurred concerned residents to take action to protect 6.75 acres of wooded land, including a natural stream known as Herbert Run. They worked together to form a nonprofit corporation, Dunmore Land Holding (DLH), Inc., to protect the land for the benefit of the local community, a task they have fulfilled admirably  for nearly a half century.

The group was led by Herbert J. Levickas, a popular Catonsville physician.  A 1999 obituary in The Sun notes that Dr. Levickas was born in Baltimore, graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1946, served a residency at St. Agnes Hospital, and, thereafter, settled in Catonsville.  He was recalled as "outgoing, socially-minded, and active" and as having "deep roots in the community." The primary benefactor of  DLH, Dr. Levickas was ably assisted in establishing the nonprofit corporation by another local Dunmore resident, Mr. Timothy Parr. Other Dunmore residents who were early involved with DLH were Jerry Hinderer and Virgina Peddicord.

Following his passing, Dr. Levickas' wife Virginia assumed the position of president of DLH, an office that she held until 2003. The role of president and oversight of the property were then passed to her neighbors, Kathy and Mac Walter. DLH began discussions with NeighborSpace a few years ago about further protecting the land with a conservation easement, a move that some may question as unnecessary given that the land is already owned by a nonprofit. But it turns out that land trusts, by virtue of their unique culture and mission, can provide an important layer of additional protection in cases like this one.

Ecologist Brewer notes that "many nonprofit organizations ... own areas that they maintain as habitat ... for public enjoyment." But he describes land trusts as "a special case in this general category."  The difference between land trusts and nearly all other nonprofit and governmental entities that hold land is that "land trusts have land protection in perpetuity as  their sole or central mission .... Their mission, by-laws, and articles of incorporation, the oversight of  their members, and the culture of the land trust community combine to make unlikely the dishonoring of a pledge to preserve land."

Indeed, NeighborSpace was among the first wave of land trusts nationally to support the creation of Terrafirma, an insurance program that helps land trusts defend against threats to the permanence of conservation by helping them with legal costs. This insurance is one component of our annual stewardship expenditures, costs that average $1,300 per property and that we fund by hosting special events like the Fall Equinox Celebration.

Who Will Save the Land? People - especially people like Dr. Levickas, who appreciated the value land has in making communities livable. None of us lives forever, though, which makes what land trusts do so critical.


Herbert Run (Photo by Lauren Loricchio, Baltimore Sun)