Meet the 10 Largest Landowners in Maryland

Written by Samantha Stanich
Updated: September 12, 2023
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Have you ever visited a state and wondered, “Who owns all this beautiful land?” Maryland is the 42nd largest state in the United States. So, though it may be one of the smaller states in the nation, the 12,407 square miles of Maryland are still owned by multiple entities. But who are the biggest landowners in Maryland?

As one of the original 13 colonies, the Old Line State’s land played an important role in American history. In 1776, America’s independence was on the line, and Maryland troops under Gen. George Washington knew their role. They won a battle that most likely saved the entire army, earning the state its nickname for holding their “line.”

So, even though it is the eighth-smallest state by land area, its population of 6,177,224 ranks it the 18th-most populous state. But who’s in control of all the state’s 7.94 million acres? Let’s find out!

Cumberland Maryland, Church, City, town

Maryland is the 42nd largest state in the U.S., covering 2,407 square miles.

©JAIRTELLO/Shutterstock.com

1. The State of Maryland: 700,000 Acres

Unsurprisingly, the state of Maryland is the biggest landowner in the state, owning over 700,00 acres of land. This accounts for around 18% of the state’s total land area. The state uses the land for various purposes including state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas.

There are multiple state agencies on the list that control land in Maryland. So, you could add the acreage together, however, they do manage the land separately from each other, just under the same umbrella of the state of Maryland.

An example of this is the Pocomoke State Forest. The 15,000-acre forest is located in Worcester County and is owned and managed by the state. It is maintained as a popular outdoor recreation destination and provides essential wildlife habitat.

The Maryland state flag waving along with the national flag of the United States of America. In the background there is a clear sky. Maryland is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States

The state of Maryland uses the land for purposes including state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas.

©rarrarorro/Shutterstock.com

Maryland State and National Parks

Maryland boasts 17 National Park Service units, which helps it be the biggest landowner in the state. This includes two national monuments, four national historic sites, and three national historic trails. The three trails were established through federal legislation and follow routes of historic and national significance. They are administered by the National Park Service in coordination with state and local agencies. They include:

  • Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail: 3,000 miles in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia; follows the historic routes of Captain John Smith.
  • Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail: 106 miles in Maryland; retraces the movement of forces during the final months of the War of 1812.
  • Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail: 680 miles through the District of Columbia and nine other states including Maryland; consists of land and water routes of Gen. George Washington and French Gen. Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau from the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, during the Revolutionary War.

There are 54 State Parks totaling 98,649 acres. Twenty-five of those are Natural Resources Management Areas (27,617 acres); seven are Natural Environment Areas (12,751 acres); three are Rail Trails (897 acres); and two are State Battlefields (2,519 acres).

2. The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation: 320,000 Acres

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation is one of many state agencies that dedicate its mission to preserving farmland in Maryland. Roughly 2 million acres of farmland occupy the East Coast state. This is 32% of Maryland’s land. The foundation holds easements on more than 320,000 acres of farmland. This ensures that Maryland’s rich agricultural heritage is preserved.

The mission is “to preserve sufficient agricultural land to maintain a viable local base of food and fiber production for the present and future citizens of Maryland.” The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation purchases easements on eligible farmland. It pays landowners to continue farming their land and gives them the peace of mind that the land is protected.

Fall colors in rural Frederick, Maryland

Under the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, the land provides a viable local base for food and fiber production.

©Dave H. Fine/Shutterstock.com

3. Federal Government: 205,362 Acres

The federal government manages federal land for preservation, recreation, and the development of natural resources. The federal government owns 27.1% of all land in the United States. This is 615.3 million of 2.27 billion acres of the nation. Maryland spans 7.94 million acres. Of those millions of acres, 205,362 acres belong to the federal government. In fact, from 1990 to 2010, the federal government’s land ownership in the state increased.

Different agencies within the federal government manage different regions of the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns 46,504 acres to manage endangered species in the state. The U.S. Department of Defense owns 108,391 acres in Maryland.

The federal government owns the most land in Alaska at 222.7 million acres. And Nevada has the greatest percentage of federal land within a state at 80.1%. The federal government owns the least acreage of land in Rhode Island and Connecticut: 4,513 acres and 9,110 acres, respectively.

Oakland, Maryland

The federal government owns 27.% of all land in the United States. This equals 615.3 million of 2.27 billion acres.

©Tara Ballard/Shutterstock.com

Agencies Responsible for Federal Land in Maryland

AgencyAcres
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management548
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service46,504
The U.S. National Park Service40,543
Department of Defense108,391

4. The Maryland Environmental Trust: 130,000 Acres

Another state agency, the Maryland Environment Trust works with landowners, local communities, and land trusts to protect Maryland’s treasured landscapes and natural resources. It holds more than 130,000 acres of conservation easements.

A 19-member Board of Trustees manages the Maryland Environment Trust. There are also 15 volunteer trustees who represent diverse areas of the state. They make sure the trust provides landowners with information and tools to permanently protect natural, historic, and scenic resources in the state. It was created in 1967 to protect Maryland’s natural environment. So, it is for the best future of the state that the Maryland Environment Trust continues to be one of the biggest landowners in Maryland.

vibrant autumn photo taken in Swallow Falls state park in western maryland

The Maryland Environment Trust holds 1,077 perpetual conservation easements in Maryland to total its acreage.

©nathaniel gonzales/Shutterstock.com

5. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources: 55,000 Acres

This state agency’s mission reads: “securing a sustainable future for our environment, society, and economy by preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing the state’s natural resources.” The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is one of the biggest landowners in Maryland with more than 55,000 acres to manage and protect. The land includes state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas.

The Appalachian Trail

The department manages part of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Maryland. The Appalachian Trail is the footpath in the Appalachian Mountains that runs through 14 states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and ending in Maine. The trail runs for about 40 miles through Maryland, following the ridgeline of South Mountain.

Sunset view from Annapolis Rocks, along the Appalachian Trail on South Mountain, Maryland

The Appalachian Trail is around 2,190 miles and passes through 14 U.S. states.

©Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

State Recreation Lands

The Maryland Park Service, a division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, maintains a system of 66 state parks.

6. The Montgomery County Department of Parks: 37,000 Acres

Piscataway Park, Wildlife park in Maryland

Montgomery County adjoins Washington, D.C. and includes parks, trails, and natural areas.

©Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Montgomery County is the most populous county in the state, so it is no surprise that the Montgomery County Department of Parks is one of the biggest landowners in Maryland. The land includes parks, trails, and natural areas. The opportunities for outdoor recreation include:

  • Four lakes
  • 27 park activity buildings
  • 102 campsites
  • 114 historic structures
  • 136 picnic areas
  • 227 basketball courts
  • 276 playgrounds
  • 269.9 miles of trails, paved and natural
  • 297 outdoor tennis courts.

This is all across 420 parks that sit on 37,000-plus acres of protected land. The county provides an accessible and safe green park system for the community.

7. The Nature Conservancy: 32,000 Acres

One of Maryland’s biggest landowners is The Nature Conservancy. This is a global environmental non-profit that works to create a world where people and nature can thrive. They own and manage lands that are critical habitats for wildlife, including the Appalachian Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay.

Beautiful Autumn Colors at Prettyboy Reservior, Maryland, USA, Maryland

As of 2021, the conservancy works via affiliates or branches in 79 countries and territories.

©Walt Bilous/Shutterstock.com

Appalachian Mountains

The Appalachian Region includes the mountain range as well as its surrounding hills and dissected plateau. This mountainous region is part of 13 states. This includes Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Appalachian Trail ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

©Film Adventure/Shutterstock.com

8. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation: 30,000 Acres

This foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation manages wetlands, forests, and farms that are critical to the bay’s health. As one of the biggest landowners in Maryland, the foundation opened in 1967. Since then, it leads the efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay through environmental advocacy, education, science, policy, litigation, and restoration.

Today, there are offices in Annapolis and Easton, and six outdoor environmental education programs across Maryland. The foundation is currently focused on ensuring the state meets its 2025 Bay cleanup goals to reduce pollution from sewage treatment plants, farms, and urban and suburban stormwater runoff.

Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay contains 18 trillion gallons of water and only half of that comes from the sea. It is located in the Mid-Atlantic region and is separated by the Delmarva Peninsula from the Atlantic Ocean. The Chesapeake Bay extends into six American states in the north, east, and west: PennsylvaniaNew YorkDelawareVirginiaWest Virginia, and Maryland. Furthermore, it extends into the federal capital city of Washington in the District of Columbia.

The shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay at Flag Ponds Nature park in Calvert County, Maryland, a popular beach for fossil hunting.

The Chesapeake Bay extends into the federal capital city of Washington in the District of Columbia.

©Yvonne Navalaney/Shutterstock.com

9. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge: 27,000 Acres

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is another one of the biggest landowners in Maryland. The wildlife refuge is located on the Eastern Shore of the state and was established in 1933. The 27,000-acre refuge was created for migratory birds and other wildlife.

It is owned and managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge provides a critical habitat for endangered species such as the Delmarva fox squirrel and the bald eagle.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is located 12 miles south of Cambridge.

©Mary Swift/Shutterstock.com

10. John Malone: 2.2 million Acres Across the U.S.

A cable TV mogul, John Malone, is one of the country’s largest individual landowners. He owns parcels of land across the United States, including in Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, Florida, Maine, and New Hampshire. Nicknamed the “Cable Cowboy” for his telecommunications career, Malone owns 2.2 million acres of land across the nation.

He has a $9.22 billion net worth. Malone is the chairman of Liberty Media, and also owns 28% of Discovery Communications, 8% of the publicly traded Atlanta Braves, and one-quarter of Liberty Global, the largest international cable company with 29 million subscribers.

An aerial late afternoon drone view of Needwood Lake, which is part of Rock Creek Regional Park in Derwood, Maryland.

John Malone owns land on the East Coast including over 1 million acres of woodlands in Maine and New Hampshire.

©Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock.com

Summary of the 10 Largest Landowners in Maryland

Here’s a recap of the top 10 owners of land in the state of Maryland.

RankLandownerLand Size
1The State of Maryland700,000 acres
2The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation320,000 acres
3Federal Government205,362 acres
4The Maryland Environmental Trust130,000 acres
5The Maryland Department of Natural Resources55,000 acres
6The Montgomery County Department of Parks37,000 acres
7The Nature Conservancy32,000 acres
8The Chesapeake Bay Foundation30,000 acres
9The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge27,000 acres
10John Malone2.2 million acres across the U.S. including Maryland

Final Thoughts on Top Landowners in Maryland

Now you know about the biggest landowners in Maryland. The state and the federal government work together to preserve the state’s natural resources and environment. Conservation efforts include protecting the Appalachian Mountains, the Chesapeake Bay, and farmlands.

In fact, Maryland is one of the main states fighting climate change. The state legislature passed the Climate Solutions Now Act. It includes the nation’s strongest carbon pollution reduction goal. The state commits to net-zero emissions by 2045. This means, by 2031, Maryland plans to cut emissions by 60%. The act also allocates resources to low-income residents. This prevents further climate-related harm to vulnerable communities. And it allows bus fleets like school buses to transition to electric buses.

What else should you know about Maryland? The state is beyond fascinating from its diverse wildlife to being one of the bordering states of Washington, DC, the U.S. capital. See one of the articles below to learn more about Maryland and its wonders!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com


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