Have you ever noticed how it is often the smallest seeds that produce the most bountiful flowers — the petunias and poppies and snapdragons? Such a scattering of a few small seeds is about to happen in the Chesapeake basin, and it could lead to some impressive results. I am referring to something called the 1994 Countryside Stewardship Exchange. It is a partnership among the Countryside Commission for England and Wales; the U.S. Countryside Institute, a private foundation in Vermont dedicated to the conservation of the American landscape; the National Park Service; the Chesapeake Bay Program; the Center for Rural Pennsylvania; the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; and others. The idea is to conduct case studies of rural land conservation and development trends in specific communities requesting assistance. The studies are led by teams of experts drawn from the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Canada.

There is no shortage of picture books that try to capture and describe the countryside of the Chesapeake region. No calendar of national scenic highlights can easily omit at least one picture of our farmlands, towns, mountains, marshes, or sailboats. While many of these are visual cliches to those of us who live here, they do represent what is special about the Bay region to millions who do not. Yet for each of us immersed in this region of land and water, there are our own special places — from the villages and farms along the winding Susquehanna in New York state, to the early morning mists in the marshes at the tip of Delmarva.

And the landscapes of the Chesapeake — for there are many — are part of what people want preserved in their concept of a restored Bay. They want more than water quality, more than fish and shellfish; they want the Chesapeake and its streams and rivers and the lands that lie adjacent to keep that special character. A great deal of effort by states and localities has gone into developing laws and regulations and programs of assistance to make sure we manage development in a way that tries to keep our landscapes intact. Furthermore, there is a lot of debate over how effective these efforts can be in the face of the inexorable attraction of more jobs and more people who want to live near the water.

What is exciting about this modest proposal for a Chesapeake Bay Countryside Exchange is that it approaches these very subjective and community-based issues without confrontation and in the spirit of inquiry, learning and cooperation. It also gives us a new way to involve local governments and citizen groups throughout the watershed in “Team Chesapeake.” The exchange has an extensive track record before coming to the Bay region. The first five exchanges in New England (1987), the United Kingdom (1989 and 1993), and across the northeastern United States and Canada (1991 and 1992) led to valuable recommendations and actions in 26 case studies related to protecting forests and farms, restoring water quality, revitalizing small towns and villages, preserving historic and rural character, balancing public access and property rights, and planning in the face of scientific uncertainty — all issues we see about us in the Bay watershed.

The idea is to start small. Only three case studies will be selected for this first round of the Chesapeake Countryside Stewardship Exchange in 1994. The aim will be to promote dialogue and cooperation among community leaders, conservation and cultural organizations, businesses, developers, landowners, and government officials. A team of Canadian and UK experts will be assigned to work with each community over a five-day period to explore the area, its issues, and its potential. Strategies will be suggested as a part of each case study, and in each case the results will be available as a model for other areas dealing with similar issues. In this way, the benefits of the exchange will devolve not only on the communities in the case study, but on other places in the watershed as well.

Information and application materials for the Countryside Stewardship Exchange are available from J. Glenn Eugster at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office, Suite 109, 410 Severn Ave., Annapolis, MD 21403. Proposals will be due on or about February 15 for the 1994 exchanges, which will be carried out Sept. 15–25.

We all agree that we want the Chesapeake to be more — a lot more — than just another strip of overstressed coastline between Long Island and Florida. Conserving the countryside is not just one means to help us get to a restored Chesapeake; it is an important component of the final product we are all seeking.