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From the Field: John Wilson

Photo of moving river

Youghiogheny River; staff photo

After 33 years with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, John Wilson considers himself “the old man” of land planning. He came on board in 1985 fresh from the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program. He began writing plans for state parks.

His first project was to develop a plan for the south cell of Hart Miller Island. “Ranger Ross Harper took me out there on a Boston Whaler,” he said. “Four-foot waves were smacking the boat. I thought I was going to die.”

John Wilson

Perhaps that’s why John spent the next 11 years working in Garrett County. When asked what his favorite word was, John spoke without hesitation: “Rivers.”

In 1976, the state designated a 21-mile long segment of the Youghiogheny River or “Yough” as Maryland’s first and only Wild River. John began the development of a river management plan in the early 1990s.

As the State Scenic and Wild Rivers Coordinator and Principal Planner, John facilitated public meetings of the local advisory board, recording verbatim minutes, often exceeding 130 pages. To this day Garrett County has no countywide zoning, and some local residents were not exactly happy with the state’s “interference.”

“Epithets flew and everyone had something to say,” John recalled. “When I met with individual property owners, they were more willing to converse.”

To appease the adjoining landowners, the state began to acquire land along the Yough, only when property owners were willing to sell. Today, Maryland owns most of the land within a defined “scenic corridor.”

More recently, John worked with a departmental interdisciplinary team to double Maryland’s acres of designated “wildlands.”

John always aims to do what is right for the natural resources and the citizens of Maryland: “If everyone is a little bit unhappy with us, then we are doing our job to achieve a balance between resource protection and public recreation and use.”

“To the lost man… to the pioneer penetrating a new country… to the naturalist who wishes to see the wild land at its wildest… the advice is always the same: follow a river. The river is the original forest highway. It’s nature’s own wilderness road.” –Edwin Way Teale

Today he wears many hats. In addition to leading the land stewardship team, he is a trail planner, technical assistant for local governments and natural resource voice for the Maryland Heritage Area Program. He serves on a team evaluating potential land acquisitions for the department, as the alternate state liaison officer for the National Park Service’s Land and Water Conservation Program, as well as the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Over the past three decades, he has visited nearly every property managed by the department.

“Along the way,” he says, “I have worked for and with truly great and talented people. None came for the money, but for the love of the resource.”

Note: John Wilson earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Delaware and a M.S. in Environmental Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. He lives on Churn Creek in Kent County, where his wife raises alpacas, bees and sheep. Their family includes three sons and a daughter. n


Article by Linda Wiley—Office of Communications webmaster. Appears in Vol. 21, No. 3 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, summer 2018.

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