Buz Meyer was known to Maryland cycling advocates as the man who single-handedly stopped the WB&A Trail from crossing the Patuxent River in 2001. To people who knew him, he was a key organizer of 4-H Clubs in Anne Arundel County, leading gun safety instructor, devoted naturalist, and a caring and generous man who opened his farm to thousands so that they could share his love of nature. Mr. Meyer died last month of pancreatic cancer. He was 80. (Photo from obituary in Baltimore Sun.)
Though we never met, I became a cycling advocate because of Buz Meyer. I was regularly skating on streets and local rail trails when I saw a trail being built on the old railroad right-of-way in Glenn Dale, where I live. Google led me to web sites explaining that a man from Bowie named Morris Warren was getting the Parks Department to build the trail in Prince Georges County, while a man named Buz Meyer was preventing it from being built in Anne Arundel. I kept emailing Morris Warren for information. Eventually he suggested that I come to a meeting of the Prince George's County Bicycle and Trail Advisory Committee.
At those meetings, I met several people who were annoyed that a single man could stop this wonderful trail. The story they told me, which they had mostly learned from Anne Arundel County officials, was this:
Mr. Meyer owns the large parcel of land on the southeast side of the railroad bed. He claims to own the railroad bed as well. Although the county disagrees, it does not really matter because the land on the other side of the railbed is a county park and the county could always put the trail there. But Mr. Meyer hunts on both his own property and the park, so he does not want a trail anywhere in that vicinity. The Anne Arundel parks department was going to build the trail anyway; but he campaigned against it, got the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and generated many letters and a petition with hundreds of signatures. So County Executive Janet Owens decided that Anne Arundel County will not build the trail. When the trail in Prince Georges opened, Meyer posted signs on his side of the river saying that the trail would never be extended to the other side.
Over the years, I would often skate the WB&A to the end, and look across the river at the Meyer property. Hearing the hunter’s gun in the distance took me back to my own childhood in then-rural Fort Washington, where I would often hear hunters in the distance. I gradually realized that there was more to Buz Meyer than the stories circulating within the cycling community.
The Meyer family has owned that land since the late 1800s. The Meyers came from Sweden by way of Tennessee. They bought their land from the Swedish Embassy, which had used it as a retreat. They took the train from Tennessee to Odenton with their livestock. The family and their animals walked the final 5 miles to the farm.
By the time Buz Meyer was born, the land had been in the family for decades. Much of it consists of wetlands along the Patuxent River. After high school, he made his living doing auto body work, but also became an avid conservationist and hunter. He was a leader of the 4-H Clubs in Anne Arundel County, built nature trails on his land, helped to re-introduce endangered wild turkeys into the state of Maryland—and hunted those turkeys as well. He opened his land to the 4-H Clubs, Boy Scout troops, Church retreats, marksmanship and gun safety classes, the Audubon Society, and other bird watchers. He established a Meyers Station foundation and gave it some of his land. Along the way, the Meyers’ land on the northwest side of the railroad was transferred to the County. But Meyer continued to explore that land, which he knew well. Buzz Meyer was one of most highly regarded citizens in rural Anne Arundel County, and his homestead was the foundation of his philanthropy.
And then, Morris Warren persuaded Prince Georges’s County officials to build a trail on the right-of-way of the WB&A Electric Railway. Having completed the B&A Trail, Anne Arundel County was ready to duplicate its success with another rail trail. I’m not sure how the County originally presented the idea of a trail to Mr. Meyer. Did they approach him with the deference that you or I would have if we wanted to regularly cross a neighbor’s land to get somewhere? Or did the County officials assume that since the county owned the right of way, they could do what they want? I don’t know. But people usually do not launch campaigns or bring in the NRA when officials are treating them with respect and soliciting win-win arrangements. To Buz Meyer and the people of his world, the trail builders were proceeding with a project that would fundamentally harm all that he was doing.
How do you balance the conservation preferences needs of a pre-existing rural community against suburbia’s need for a new transportation corridor? About a year ago I started to wonder: Is the Meyer homestead enough of an environmental and education resource that even I would have agreed to postpone construction indefinitely? Did the Meyers have additional conservation goals, and if so, what were they? Why were they opposing the trail but not the Two Rivers development? Could the idea of a detour trail be part of a larger effort to preserve the rural character of the entire area? I emailed the Meyers Station Foundation, traded voicemails with one of his daughters, and planned to followup; but now it is too late to find our what Mr. Meyer would have said.
Too often we dismiss anyone who opposes a beneficial public project as a NIMBY. If you don’t want a light rail line in your back yard, don’t buy a home next to a recently closed freight rail line. If you need ample parking in front of your home, move out of downtown DC to the suburbs, many would say. But Buz Meyer did not live in the city or inner suburbs. He was in rural Anne Arundel County! The railroad had closed 65 years ago—and he owned the railbed! He was already doing what we would have said that a NIMBY should have done.
Cyclists are a minority. Conservationists are a minority. While we sometimes disagree about specific projects, there is much that we have in common. If we don’t find that common ground, we are not trying hard enough.
(Jim Titus is the corresponding Secretary of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association and a member of WABA's Board of Directors. The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily the official views of either of those organizations.)