"New Forest" Coming to
Frederick County Soon

When Elizabeth Prongas, a long-time resident of Rocky Ridge, saw a Farm Service Agency notice in the Frederick News Post some time ago, she recognized a possible opportunity. For years she had hoped to create a "New Forest" on part of her property. And this month, weather permitting, the planting of that forest will begin on Beaver Branch.

Some eight acres of Mrs. Prongasís property will soon be planted with 3200 tree and shrub seedlings, under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is administered through the Frederick County Farm Service Agency. The main purpose of these plantings is to halt erosion by establishing a riparian barrier. As the plants grow larger and establish root systems, they will serve as a filter to reduce harmful runoff, such as farm waste and chemicals, into the stream and improve the existing habitat for birds and small animals. Beaver Branch runs into Owens Creek, which runs into the Monocacy River, which in turn connects with the Potomac River, a principal source of drinking water, so water quality is extremely important. And as most of us know, the Potomac empties into Chesapeake Bay, where for years extensive efforts have been under way to remedy adverse conditions resulting from decades of dumping pollutants upstream.

Mrs. Prongas explains how the "New Forest" project developed. "My husband bought the property of about 365 acres in 1954 with a partner. It reminded him of the area of Greece where he grew up." (Although Harry Prongas was born in the U.S., he lived in Greece from age 5 to age 11, and then came back to the U.S. to live with a cousin.) "When I met him in 1962 (they married in 1970)," she said, " I had no idea that almost 40 years later I would have this opportunity to begin a forest project.

"My husband loved animals and was concerned about the increasing threat to the environment and Harry and I always enjoyed the stream area. Itís been a sanctuary for deer, birds and small animals as well as a pasture for horses and cows." She adds: "You could say the New Forest is a memorial to him." (Dr. Prongas, who was a history professor at Frederick Community College, Mount St. Maryís, and Hood College, died in 1992.)

After her husband died, Mrs. Prongas became a Master Gardener through the Carroll County Extension Service and decided to "become very aggressive in seeking information about the environment and what it was possible to do with this property." The area that will be improved to become the New Forest already looks somewhat like a park, and includes a rock outcropping as high as a house resembling a cave, she explains. However, trees in the area have been breaking because of ice storms, and a big hickory came down two years ago because floods washed away the soil around its roots, she points out.

Within the next few weeks, the 3200 tree and shrub seedlings, supplied by the Maryland Department of National Resources, will be planted within a 150-foot strip on either side of Beaver Branch for 5400 feet along its banks, targeting areas where erosion is taking place or is likely to occur. Each seedling must be staked and enclosed in a shelter to prevent deer damage. Almost all of the seedlings are native plants. "The only exception," Mrs. Prongas says, "is the pin oak, a native of the Eastern Shore, but still a native American tree." The Sierra Club advised her on this part of the project. The plan calls for four acres of trees and four acres of shrubs.

Under the terms of the cost-share agreement with CREP, Mrs. Prongas will pay 13 percent of the initial reforestation cost of approximately $9,000 with the State of Maryland paying the remainder. The contract, which runs from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2015, also requires Mrs. Prongas to maintain the plantings. "Itís a big responsibility for someone my age to oversee this project because I have to work closely with CREP and FSA Forestry Department foresters. The project has involved many phone conversations and there are many forms to fill out -- I have to justify everything."

Why is the project called the New Forest? One needs to go back to before World War II ó as long ago as the Norman conquest ó to fully appreciate the origin of the name. Mrs. Prongasís mother was English, but married an American. When Mrs. Prongasís father died at an early age, her mother took her two daughters (Mrs. Prongasís sister lives in Frederick) back to England, where they survived the blitz during World War II.. When she was a child, Mrs. Prongas visited several times an area called the New Forest in Hampshire on the southern English coast, where her motherís family lived as early as 1200. Mrs. Prongasís first visit to the New Forest as an adult was in 1989. She went to the Hampshire Bureau of Records in Winchester and purchased two books that contain the names of all the persons known to have lived in the area since 1244; several of her relatives are listed.

According to a web site -- www.hants.gov.uk -- maintained by the Hampshire County Council, the New Forest was originally commandeered in 1079 as a deer hunting area by William the Conqueror. Although "the term ĎForestí in a medieval sense was a legally defined area . . . it was not necessarily a wooded area in the modern meaning ó nearly half the New Forest is open heath, grassland and bog," the site says. In fact, Englandís New Forest is a large recreational area, and a 1998 brochure Mrs. Prongas obtained recently from a friend advertises many visitor attractions (including Burley Bike Hire, which offers "bratmobiles" and "muttmobiles") as well as historic buildings, gardens, vineyards and farms. The New Forest Museum and Visitor Center contains exhibits about the Forestís history, traditions, characters and wildlife, the brochure tells us.

One of Mrs. Prongasís concerns was using the name "New Forest." But upon contacting the Hampshire County Council via e-mail, she learned that they had no objections. "We wish you every success with your venture," they said.

Itís unlikely that the New Forest in Northern Frederick County will ever reach the proportions of its British namesake, but future generations will be able to enjoy Mrs. Prongasís contribution to the preservation and beautification of the county when her "New Forest" becomes a reality. "There is a lot of work to be done," Mrs. Prongas emphasizes.

What would please Mrs. Prongas even more than bringing the New Forest project to fruition is participation in the conservation effort by her neighbors and others in Northern Frederick County. If you would like to know more about preserving the environment through available state and federal programs, contact the Frederick County Farm Service Agency at (301) 662-1321, ext. 2, or write to the agency at 92 Thomas Jefferson Drive, Suite 240, Frederick, MD 21702-4383.