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Prongas works tirelessly for the land

Chris Patterson

Elizabeth Prongas has cherished the land, the trees and the water since she was a little girl. It was a value instilled in her as she was growing up in England.

Prongas calls Emmitsburg her home, and is well known countywide for her art. She is perhaps lesser known for her contributions to protecting the environment in Frederick County.

Except by those who work with her to protect the environment, that is.

The founder and president of The New Forest Society, Prongas, 77, spends 50 to 100 hours per month attending meetings and acting as liaison between the state and residents ­ all to protect the water and land of Frederick County

But Prongas is not the stereotypical "tree-hugger" one might imagine.

Born in New York, Prongas moved to England with her mother when she was 5 years old, shortly after her father died.

At 14, she went to work in the U.S. Embassy there, doing secretarial work. It was during the bombings of England in World War II that Prongas traveled 40 miles by train each way to get back and forth to her job. At 19, her family returned home to the United States.

Both her daughters, Deborah Souders and Rebecca Pearl, are well-known artists in Frederick County.

Prongas appears every bit the lady. Her hair upswept, she cuts an elegant figure. She is soft-spoken, yet quite passionate and serious about subjects that interest her.

Remembrances of her love for nature and painting as a child, or the accomplishments of her children, all bring a radiant smile.

Her love of nature is apparent in her work as an artist.

She specializes in portraiture, but nature is frequently the subject of her work. And her ability to draw trees comes in handy sometimes.

Most recently The New Forest Society sponsored a tree planting by children at Emmitsburg Elementary School. Prongas found it helpful to be able to draw a tree and the children loved it, she said.

And while she is involved in many volunteer projects, the biggest portion of her time is spent with the organization she founded. When Prongas attended a meeting about the state's Conservation Resource Enhancement Program, she realized program participants really needed a support system.

As part of the program, landowners may enroll some of their land with the state and receive a one-time bonus in addition to annual rental payments from the state for an easement for the property. The easement protects the land in its natural condition, essentially forever. But the landowner does have responsibilities, such as fulfilling specific maintenance requirements for the land.

Helping landowners working with the state program is the role that consumes most of her time, but she is hardly limited to it. Prongas is also a member and past president of the Emmitsburg Business and Professional Association, a board member for the Committee for Frederick County and the Emmitsburg branch of Frederick County Public Libraries, an appointed member of the Scenic Monocacy Advisory Board, and a member of the Route 15 Scenic Byway Advisory Board.

In addition to her work as an artist and art teacher, she is also a licensed practical nurse, working one night per week and relief shifts at Homewood Nursing Facility.

Prongas said she volunteers for many reasons, one being her admiration for the people of Emmitsburg. "I'm very fortunate I have met wonderful people and most of them just get on with it," she said, laughing.

By that, Prongas meant that they are always busy doing church suppers or whatever needs to be done, and she likes that about the people in her community. People in her community like that about her, too.

Don Briggs knows well the kind of energy and commitment Prongas brings to everything she does. He works with her on many things.

Briggs is president of the Catoctin Land Trust, and is on the board of The New Forest Society.

"If it's anything for the good of north Frederick County, you are going to meet her there. She's behind every door," he said of Prongas. "What she does, it has to be good."

"She's terrific. She's indefatigable. She never gets tired and she's always at the forefront for northern Frederick County ­ the people first and then the environment," he said.

Prongas said she wouldn't allow herself to succumb to tiredness or self-pity. "It becomes a way of life. ... You go at it with joy," she said.