Joan Maloof: Paleo Channel outweighs recreation area

I recently read in Salisbury Independent that Wicomico County plans to ask the City of Salisbury to transfer some land to them so an athletic complex can be expanded.

The arguments for doing so seem to be largely economic: more tourism dollars.

What is Salisbury’s most valuable economic resource? It is not tourism dollars. It is the clean drinking water in the Paleo Channel aquifer that runs beneath the city.

Maloof column

Joan Maloof in front of a stand of old-growth tulip poplar trees in north Salisbury.

Every day, more than 5 million gallons of water are pumped up to supply our sinks, our showers, our toilets, and our industries, with pure water. Most of the water comes from a well in Naylor Mill Park (right next to the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex) on Naylor Mill Road.

The park was paid for by the city of Salisbury and Maryland Program Open Space. Water quality from this vitally important well is protected by the park’s ancient forest.

If you walk through the forest – which I hope you will do – you will see one of the very rare native forests left in Salisbury. Towering red oak trees, perhaps a hundred years or more in age, share the canopy with large tulip poplars, hickories, white oaks, Virginia pines, loblolly pines, black gum, sweet gum, cherry and maple.

Beneath these tall trees are shorter holly and dogwood trees, and beneath the short trees are mountain laurel and blueberry bushes. Beneath the woody plants are wildflowers, including ladies’ slipper orchids.

Bird song can be heard at dawn and dusk as birds feed on insects in tree tops and on the forest floor. Trails for walking and biking wind through the forest.

Knock down this rare old forest providing clean water, clean air, animal habitat, gentle recreation, and spiritual nourishment, for athletic fields? Surely that would be a grave mistake.

Perhaps adding more athletic fields is desirable, but athletic fields can be built anywhere; you cannot build another forest like this one.

Salisbury has less than 2,000 acres of forest left; we should be increasing our urban tree canopy not decreasing it.

In 2006 the Governor’s Commission for Protecting the Chesapeake Bay through Sustainable Forestry noted that the primary threat to forests is the “development of forests due to uninformed local land use decisions leading to parcelization and fragmentation of forests and conversion to non-forest uses.”

I hope our City Council will not make a decision to give away this forest without being informed. Forests are home to 80 percent of our terrestrial biodiversity. Forests can remove 80 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that would otherwise enter our rivers – and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Forests prevent flooding and erosion. Forests are better at protecting water quality than any other land use. Forests remove carbon dioxide from the air.

In a 2005 survey of 600 Wicomico County residents, 96 percent said that conserving natural areas is necessary if we are to maintain our quality of life.

Although forests do so much for us, every year our city, our state, our planet, loses forest cover due to short-term business decisions. I hope everyone will speak out to protect this precious forest that belongs not just to the city, not to the county, but to all of us.

 Joan Maloof, a Plant Science, Environmental Science and Ecology expert is currently developing a network of forests across the U.S., which will remain forever unlogged and open to the public, called the Old-Growth Forest Network. Contact her at

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