Skip to Main Content

First-of-Its-Kind Easement Protects Historic Area from Sea Level Rise Impacts

Coastal resilience considered in preservation of Harriet Tubman National Park and Byway site

An example of lands that would be protected through this new easement program.

An example of land that would be protected through this new easement program.
Photo by Alan Sakakhiara

Through a first-of-its-kind easement designed to protect coastal areas from the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge, the State of Maryland has preserved 221 acres in Dorchester County along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and Scenic Byway.  Governor Martin O’Malley and the Board of Public Works today approved funding to preserve the land through a Coastal Resilience Easement.

“Because of our State’s vulnerability to sea level rise ─ especially in our coastal communities ─ we must now consider the possible impacts of flooding and storm surge when we look to conserve our open space,” said Governor O’Malley. “This first-of-its-kind easement will not only protect a significant natural and historic area from development, it also includes requirements that address the threat of climate change.”

A new element under Program Open Space, Coastal Resilience Easements are designed to protect areas that may be prone to high waters and storm surge by permanently eliminating development, restricting impervious surfaces, protecting areas that allow wetlands to migrate, and requiring periodic Soil Conservation and Water Quality plan updates ─ all of which can help natural areas more quickly recover from flooding.

This easement will conserve a significant historic site along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and Scenic Byway, including the Brodess Plantation where Tubman was once enslaved. Located less than a mile from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the property features sensitive and important forests, farmlands and wetlands and includes habitat for the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel and Forest Interior Dwelling birds.

Also known as the Lake Property, the easement was made possible thanks to the Late Victoria Lake Waters, Millie Lake, Benito and Barbara Lake, Ellen Bronte Lake and Edward James.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy will work together to manage the area. In April the Maryland Environmental Trust and the Conservancy permanently protected 226 acres of farmland along the byway.

Over the past century, Maryland has seen approximately one foot of relative sea level rise and the disappearance of 13 bay islands. To better protect coastal areas threatened by encroaching waters, DNR now reviews all land acquisitions for climate change impacts. Climate change and coastal data used in development of the easement is available to the public through Maryland’s Coastal Atlas. More on protecting coastal habitats can be found on the Chesapeake and Coastal Service website.

The three-member Board of Public Works is composed of Governor O’Malley (chair), Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot. BPW is authorized by the General Assembly to approve major construction and consultation contracts, equipment purchases, property transactions and other procurement transactions.