Profiles in Conservation
From Protecting Family History to Enhancing Forest Resources: Maryland Couple Live Their Dream in Harford County
Richard and Cindy Carr first moved to their property in Harford County, MD, 38 years ago, as renters with the option to buy. Moving to the property was a dream come true for Richard Carr.
“As a child I always wanted to be on a farm,” he said. He and his family have raised goats, sheep, hogs, chickens, horses, had a large garden, and planted Christmas trees over the past 38 years.
When the Carrs moved to the mostly wooded property it consisted of 63 acres, but the previous landowner had already filed paperwork to subdivide the property. In 1992 the Carrs purchased the 15-acre lot that contained the original homestead and other historic structures dating back to about 1840. A lot of work needed to be done to the house when they first moved in, and they have renovated the house a little at a time.
Steeped in History
Through the years the Carrs have done extensive research and discovered that their house and property are steeped in history. The subdivision is named Lafayette’s Crossing, for where Lafayette crossed the Susquehanna River to meet General Washington at the Battle of Yorktown.
“We do know that the old York Road and Baltimore Pike convened behind our house. That was an interesting highway. They would go down to the river and cross the Susquehanna River at the covered bridge,” commented Richard Carr.
Evidence also suggests that their house may have been part of the Underground Railroad. The Carrs wanted to turn all that history into a family legacy.
“I had a lot of interest in history, always did. Both of my boys are reenactors in the Civil War, World War I, and several other battles that they have always been interested in,” he said.
The Carrs have amassed a collection of documents, photos, and historical accounts of the area over the years.
With their great passion for the history of the area and resources they invested in the property, the Carrs developed an interest to keep the property in the family. So they began the process of creating an estate plan by talking with their children.
Creating an Estate Plan
“I sat with the kids, and I individually talked with them about their thoughts,” Carr recounted. As part of the discussions they talked about who wanted the property and who would handle various aspects. They were also able to identify who would be executor of the estate.
“We got with the attorney and talked about the plusses and minuses. He gave us some really good ideas to think about. That was really instrumental in getting our feet on the ground and feeling very comfortable with where we are, and what could happen,” Mr. Carr said.
“By the time we had talked to our attorney to help us with the legal stuff, and to make sure we had everything the way we wanted it, it took 2 years—2 years to come to a point of how we want our property to be handled, and what was important. We wanted to pass down the history in book form, in note form, or whatever form we have gathered over the years as the number one priority,” he said.
Mr. and Mrs. Carr shared their experience with the need to be honest. When doing estate planning it is important that individuals be upfront and frankly discuss their opinions and concerns.
“You have to be willing to say you don’t want it or are not interested,” he said.
Three acres of the property have been split off for one of their sons to build his home. Their youngest son is the recipient of the remainder of the property.
“We have it stipulated in the estate plan that if he decides not to take the property, then he has to sell it to somebody in the family.” The estate plan further stipulates that the selling price to a family member is capped at 70 percent of the market appraised value.
“I thought that was a good way to lock it in but still give it flexibility,” said Mr. Carr. “I do realize the possibility of the property eventually being sold outside the family. That it could go away. … But, I figure we have 4 sons, 10 granddaughters, and 2 grandsons. That is almost 20 people that would have to deny wanting to live here. You would think there is someone in the group that wants to maintain it,” he said.
Enrolling in the Stewardship Program
The property had been logged several times in the past. Some of the work had been done haphazardly and left a lot of damage to remaining trees. “At that time we were still renters and didn’t have a lot of say in the matter,” Mr. Carr commented.
Several years ago the Carrs went to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to inquire about programs offered through the agency. They developed a relationship with Mike Huneke, who told them about Forest Stewardship Plans and the Tree Farm Program.
“Mike explained the benefits of being involved in the program,” said Mr. Carr. After they signed up in the Stewardship Program, Mr. Huneke worked with Mr. and Mrs. Carr to develop a management plan that would prevent loss through the development of large estate homes. Mr. Huneke provided them with advice, recommendations for marking trees for logging, and provided assistance in laying out logging roads to get around easily.
The Carrs are into their second stewardship plan. Mr. Carr knew that something needed to be done with his forest resources. He had heard of the tree management program and seen the “Tree Farm” signs and decided to learn more.
“Over the years, DNR in Maryland has always been very helpful to me,” he said.
One of the ways that the Carrs have helped Maryland DNR in return is by providing a seed source for the State tree nursery. The Carrs have a specimen sycamore in their yard. DNR collected seeds from the tree and took them to the nursery for planting. When the seedlings were 1 or 2 years old, they were sold as part of the State’s reforestation program. It provides other property owners in Maryland who want to improve their forest resources one more variety of tree species to choose from, to diversify their landscape.
Mr. Huneke recommended getting a qualified person to evaluate the timber resources, and Mr. Carr had DNR staff come out to take a look. He followed up by contacting a local logger from Pennsylvania who developed a timber management plan.
“With that first timber harvest we made a lot of effort to clean up the property of trees that were already dead, or already on the ground. I wanted to remove certain trees that I thought were qualified to take and use for whatever purpose,” said Mr. Carr.
Forty-four trees were marked for removal under this intermediate-cut prescription. Under an intermediate cut, trees are selected for removal for thinning, stand improvement, and sanitation purposes.
The logging operation followed Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce damage to the resource. BMPs used included placing steel sheets to protect the stream bottoms during equipment crossings, building up berms and seeding with grass to protect from runoff, and leaving stumps that were not blocking the roadway for soil stabilization. Many of the logging roads that were used had been in existence since the 1800’s when the area was mined for flint, slate, and marble, and required minor enhancements. The stand improvement operation took about 2 weeks to complete.
“The various plans that were developed prior to conducting the stand improvement project were instrumental for guidance and doing things right,” he recalled.
According to Carr the goal was to “try to come up with a program that would best suit us where we could benefit from the woodland itself. I was always under the impression that good stewardship would be to not just cut down every tree, but only take the trees that were damaged or needed help.”
A Passion for Wildlife
Carr actively manages the wildlife on the property. He said that after moving onto the property, “It soon became apparent that there was a fair number of deer present and that a few needed to be thinned to maintain a healthy herd.” He conducted the hunting himself, or invited friends to hunt, to ensure that the appropriate amount of hunting pressure was applied to remove surplus animals.
Thinning the herd is only one of the management tools Carr applies to maintain a healthy deer population. He also puts out mineral blocks to make certain the deer have adequate access to essential nutrients. He has kept records of the herd through the years, including deer age, which he measures from the jaw bone, as he learned to do from DNR personnel.
Carr does not have any food plots on the property. He commented that he once tried to plant a food plot, but the deer ate the high protein plants before they could become established.
“It just wasn’t worth the expense of the seed since the deer wouldn’t let the plants get a foothold.”
Carr uses the deer, however, to help in his fight against invasive plants.
“I discovered that deer find multiflora rose to be sweet tasting, and by providing access points to multiflora rose patches that the deer will do a pretty good job of keeping it trimmed back. So, I took my clippers and created trails to get the deer to patches of multiflora rose I want to treat. That will then give the understory a chance to grow. By doing this I am able to accomplish a lot of work without applying chemicals.”
His passion for wildlife led him to include in the stewardship plan management practices that would expand wildlife habitat opportunities. Part of this was accomplished by creating brush piles to provide habitat for birds and small game. They were also able to expand the habitat availability for pileated woodpeckers.
“We were one of the first people in this area with pileated woodpeckers. We had just enough of the habitat requirements for them to flourish. We see them now on a regular basis,” Carr said.
One would think that with all of these activities that Mr. Carr’s plate of stewardship would be full. But with white-nose syndrome decimating bat populations he has found that his property can help in that arena also.
“We have some bat boxes up,” he said.
“A lot of this, it takes time. I probably should have been a biologist. … I figure I am a biologist in my own way,” he offered.
A New Wood Boiler
About 8 years ago the Carrs installed a wood boiler heating system. The boiler is recessed about 20 yards from the house.
The Carrs obtain wood for the heating system from a combination of sources. They utilize trees from their property that come down as a result of storms or other damage. They have also partnered with one of their sons-in-law who operates a tree service business. He provides the Carrs with split firewood in exchange for their letting him use an area to haul and process wood obtained through the tree service.
“I will never have to do much wood cutting,” Carr quipped. They also use wood chips as mulch around the trees near the house.
Tax Break for Conserving Open Space
One of the other actions the Carrs took to protect their property was to enroll the forest land into Maryland’s Forest Conservation and Management Program. This program allows owners with at least 5 contiguous acres of forest land to enter into a legal agreement with the DNR. The landowner agrees to manage their forest land according to a management plan developed for the property. In exchange the property tax assessment on the land is generally reduced and frozen at a low agricultural rate.
“Most States have a program that allows landowners with forest or agricultural land to enroll their property that can reduce the property tax while conserving open space. The qualifications vary by State, so interested landowners should start by contacting the Department of Natural Resources in their State to get information on the requirements to enter the program,” said Mike Huneke, now Forest Stewardship Coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service.
“When we moved out here, it was like a dream come true,” Carr remembered. “We’ve never been afraid of hard work. We try to get the big picture, … the broader the picture, … more benefit to the environment,” he concluded.
Story by Devin J. Wanner