Three communities in the Bay watershed have been selected for study by international experts this fall as part of an annual exchange that helps local communities collaboratively address land conservation, development, and related issues.

The watershed was chosen for this year's International Countryside Stewardship Exchange, an effort begun in the mid-1980s to find practical ways for local communities to protect their unique cultural, natural, and historical heritage.

Each year, experts from the United States, Canada, France, and England form teams which descend upon interested communities to work with local coalitions in developing recommendations to deal with both short-and long-term stewardship issues.

Through a series of meetings and field trips, the experts - with backgrounds that include economic development, land use design, natural resources, hydrology, and other disciplines - will delve into local community issues. After five days, they will present their findings to a public meeting and make recommendations for each of the communities.

The Chesapeake region was chosen for this year's exchange because the Bay Program's emphasis on building partnerships for Bay restoration activities appeared to make it well-suited for the development of community case studies.

Five exchanges have been held in recent years, benefiting nearly 100 communities. This year's exchange is scheduled to take place September 15-24. Fewer communities were selected this year to allow more emphasis on following up the recommendations.

The local communities selected for participation in the 1994 exchange include:

  • Cumberland County, Pa., which stretches from the west shore of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg through rural countryside in the Great Valley that is drained by the Conodoguinet and Yellow Breeches creeks. The case study will examine how the 34 municipalities responsible for land use planning and zoning can best manage the county's unique resources while facing annual growth rates as high as 20 percent in some areas. Case study organizers are looking for a vision and a plan that can direct growth in a way that protects prime agricultural land, the integrity of rural towns and villages, and the beauty of the landscape so the county can retain its cultural and natural heritage.

  • Chester River watershed, Md., which lies in Queen Anne's and Kent counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore. These rural communities, which border on the Chesapeake Bay, are facing the impacts of suburban sprawl. The case study will examine how a regional focus can be developed to sustain the environment and the economy. Case study organizers are looking for answers to questions about how to manage growth, yet retain community character; how natural resources can be used to encourage economic opportunities; and how a community ethic of land and river stewardship can be encouraged.

  • Eastern Shore of Virginia, a 70-mile peninsula that separates the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean which contains fertile farmland, productive forests, deep water creeks, and extensive coastal marshes and bays. The case study will focus on issues of agriculture; sustainable economic development; water quality; maintaining cultural and historical character; and providing public access. Case study organizers are looking for assistance in building a regional vision as a foundation for the discussion of more detailed issues as the Eastern Shore faces change.

The projects chosen for this year's exchange were selected from 14 proposals submitted by coalitions of local governments and citizen groups throughout the Bay watershed.

Priority was given to those proposals which had the potential to address several key theme areas, such as integrating watershed and ecosystem functions into local decisionmaking; supporting growth management; developing locally based cultural and heritage tourism; implementing habitat restoration and protection; and developing educational programs and protection strategies for rural communities.

The selected communities demonstrated broad-based support from local officials, private organizations, and businesses, and were willing to provide adequate financial and logistical support.

The exchange concept was begun by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Countryside Commission for England and Wales to find ways to achieve sustainable development that would protect community character and countryside values.

The first American exchange was held in New England in 1987. Other exchanges were conducted in the United Kingdom in 1989 and 1993, and Canada in 1991 and 1992.

Exchange activities in the United States are overseen by the Countryside Institute, a nonprofit organization headquartered in New England which is dedicated to the preservation of the American landscape.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is acting as the local coordinator for this year's exchange, and will aid in follow-up activities.

This year's exchange is being sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Program; the National Park Service Mid-Atlantic Region; the Center for Rural Pennsylvania; the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; and the Countryside Institute.