Coastal Resilience Easement Used In Maryland to Protect National Historic Monument Site
In what the State of Maryland is touting as the first of its kind, a new, 221-acre “coastal resilience easement” has been acquired to protect the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and Scenic Byway on Maryland’s eastern shore.
In an announcement, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said, “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. 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.”
Indeed, Maryland is particularly susceptible to sea level rise and coastal flooding. Over the past century, Maryland has lost 13 islands in the Chesapeake Bay, with several more threatened. Maryland has long maintained a strategic land conservation effort to set aside park lands and to protect sensitive lands and important habitat, but this easement is the first acquisition specifically designated for coastal resilience.
According to the announcement, “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.”
President Obama designated the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument this past spring, and legislation is pending to develop a National Historic Park at the location. The monument’s consists of federal and state lands in and it includes properties that are highly significant to Tubman’s early years, including the Brodess plantation where the heroic Harriet Tubman was enslaved.
As the Park Service describes it, “You won’t see Harriet Tubman represented here in structures and statues, rather, she is memorialized in the land, water, and sky of the Eastern Shore where she was born and where she returned again and again to free others. Tubman would easily recognize this place. The landscapes and waterways that she navigated and used for sanctuary on her Underground Railroad missions have changed little from her time.” One specific site is Stewart’s Canal, “dug by hand by free and enslaved people between 1810 and 1832 for commercial transportation,” according to the Park Service, “Tubman learned important outdoor skills navigating the canal and when she worked in nearby timbering operations with her father, Ben Ross.”
The problem is that much of this history is dangerously close to sea level now.