EASTON — The Maryland Board of Public Works unanimously approved the University System of Maryland’s acquisition of a parcel of valuable agricultural land on the Wye River from the Aspen Institute May 19 to complete another step in the purchasing process.
Now that the Board of Public Works has approved the acquisition, the University System of Maryland is one step closer to purchasing the 234-acre parcel for a total of $936,000, or $4,000 per acre, from the Aspen Institute. The newly acquired land will primarily serve the University of Maryland, College Park’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Located in Queen Anne’s County close to the university’s Wye Research and Education Center, the property is currently leased to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources from the nonprofit Aspen Institute. It’s bordered by the Wye East River on one side and Wye Narrows on the other.
The college’s current acreage is used for research on Maryland’s farms and the Chesapeake Bay, focusing on the connection between agriculture and the environment. It’s also home to the world-famous Wye Angus herd, a closed breeding population of excess research cattle, which are available for auction to the general public every year.
Purchasing the land is a long process, said Dr. Kate Everts, director of the Wye Research and Education Center. The purchase request had to be approved by the University System of Maryland and the Board of Public Works, and it may be several more months until the purchase is made and the conservation easement is transferred over.
“It is an amazing resource in researching advanced improved methods for conserving the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” Everts said. “So this really is an amazing and wonderful piece of property for really advancing our understanding of how we can protect and preserve the Chesapeake Bay.”
Additionally, the Aspen Institute is gifting 330 acres of its land to the university, part of which will be used for grazing for the Wye Angus herd. The rest will be used for other agricultural and environmental research projects to keep up with the university’s environmental stewardship.
Historically, the land was given to the Aspen Institute as a gift from Arthur and Nina Houghton in 1978. To ensure future land conservation, Nina placed a covenant on the land declaring that it has to be used for educational purposes and must be preserved as open space, according Everts.
The Aspen Institute has been in the process of selling the land since 2018 after deciding to consolidate its operations in its existing offices in Washington, D.C., and Aspen, Colorado, said Jonathan Purves, senior media relations manager for Aspen Institute.
Two former Aspen Institute conference centers — the Houghton House and the River House — are also located on the land to be purchased. They’re not part of the sale to the University of Maryland, Everts said.
The purchase of the land will continue to advance the Wye Research and Education Center’s educational, research and extension missions, Everts said. The impact will have a broader effect too, benefiting not just the University of Maryland but also the whole state.
“It’s going to allow us to expand our research and education extension programs, learn more about how to keep the Chesapeake Bay healthy and vibrant and help agriculture advance and be as environmentally forward looking as possible,” Everts said.