In this edition of our magazine, I am proud to share with you excerpts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Annual Report, highlighting achievements in the year 2020. Every year, we share an annual report of DNR activities from the previous calendar year. It is a great way to keep the public informed of our activities, but it is also a great testament to the dedication of our staff, our partners, and our volunteers.
While many of our readers know that we saw record visitation at our state parks in 2020—an amazing 45 percent increase to over 21.5 million visitors—they may not know that we also had a tremendous increase in call center volume through our DNR Communications Center. Last year, volumes reached over 66,000 calls, entries, and requests for assistance.
In addition to meeting these needs, the Natural Resources Police continued their proactive public safety mission by conducting more than 18,500 recreational vessel inspections and welcomed 27 new officers to our team.
To create more outdoor recreation opportunities, our Land Acquisition and Planning unit supported 155 local projects totaling $47 million and added 555 new acres of local park space through Program Open Space (POS) Local. On the state side, we added acreage and amenities at Wolf Den Run, Cunningham Falls, Point Lookout, Soldiers Delight, Patuxent River, and Fort Frederick state parks, and we acquired over 4,000 acres of land for future opportunities.
Major projects and historic renovations took place under the leadership of our Engineering and Construction team at the Point Lookout State Park Lighthouse Complex, Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area, and the Cambridge Marine Terminal.
As more and more licenses were sold, hunting opportunities expanded as well through the First Shot mentored deer hunt, pheasant stocking, and new regulations that authorized straight-walled cartridges. Our Wildlife and Heritage Service team also developed a new virtual offshore blind sites process that nearly doubled participation in the lottery.
On the Chesapeake Bay front, our Resource Assessment Service developed advanced pandemic protocols so they could continue their work of collecting, processing, and analyzing over 3 million water quality records. This information guides the management, protection, and restoration of Maryland’s bays and tidal tributaries. The Maryland Geological Survey was also busy collecting geophysical data covering about 13,000 acres from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries as well as Maryland’s lakes and reservoirs. They also mapped more than 130 rock cuts to mitigate rock fall risks on state highways, protecting lives on Maryland roads.
Also important to our Chesapeake Bay goals is supporting projects that reduce nutrient pollution. DNR’s Chesapeake and Coastal Service supported projects throughout the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays that reduced over 20,000 pounds of phosphorus, 3.8 million pounds of nitrogen, and 6,700 tons of suspended solids last year.
The Maryland Forest Service planted half a million trees and distributed over 22,000 tree seedlings through the Backyard Buffers Program, all while our wildland firefighters helped suppress 103 wildfires in 11 states across the country and responded to 76 wildfire incidents within Maryland.
Our staff also engaged more than 22,000 students with hands-on outdoor learning experiences through a combination of in-person and virtual programs.
While often unrecognized, Enterprise Services is a critical division of our mission. With their leadership, we modernized our workflows during the pandemic and achieved 90% paperless operations to improve customer service. We also launched a major IT development project to modernize our licensing system, which will greatly benefit our customers by making it easier to do business with our department.
Believe it or not, these are just a portion of the milestones we achieved during the very difficult year of 2020. I am so grateful to our staff, our partners, our volunteers—and supporters such as you—who rose to the occasion!
Article appears in Vol. 24, No. 3 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, summer 2021.