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ESLC Announces “The Battle for Wye Island”

Oct 12, 2012 06:23PM ● By Anonymous

In late winter 1972, famed developer James Rouse began drafting a plan for one of the boldest, most innovative housing developments in the history of post-WWII America. In his quest for “the improvement of mankind,” Rouse decided that his next project, coming shortly after his highly lauded Columbia, Maryland, development made headline news, was to be located on the diminutive Wye Island - close to Rouse’s boyhood hometown of Easton.

His vision for Wye called for a modern community that would create high-density and low-environmental-impact housing for as many as 40,000 residents, while protecting the island’s pristine shoreline. With families living on less than 12 percent of the land mass, the waterfront would suffer no net loss of habitat for wildlife, and at the same time provide a non-intrusive option to Queen Anne’s County, which already was destined for significant growth with the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge in full use.

Very few on the Eastern Shore, Rouse among them, could have anticipated that his Wye Island plans would lead to one of the most legendary and contentious battles in the history of land conservation in the United States.

This epic tale was the subject of author Boyd Gibbons’ celebrated 1977 book, Wye Island: Outsiders, Insiders, and Resistance to Change. And now, nearly forty years since Rouse started his plans for Wye Island, Gibbons is returning to the Eastern Shore to participate in the panel discussion, which will be moderated by Lynn Scarlett, Visiting Scholar at Resources for the Future and former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Though Gibbons recounts a tale at Wye Island that unfolded over 3 decades ago, its insights about people and their passions for ‘place’ that give rise to conservation remain acutely relevant in today's urbanizing world,” Scarlett said.

Other forum panel members include Rob Etgen, Executive Director of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy; Ted Rouse, President of Healthy Planet and son of James Rouse; John Wilson, Queen Anne’s County Developer; and Robin Wood, Queen Anne’s County Planning office.

The event is open to public, but seating is limited. A reception hosted by Aspen Institute will follow. Reservations are available at, by email, or by calling 410.827.9756.

The forum is hosted by the Aspen Institute, The Chestertown Spy, and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.