Growing up in a historic house on a farm in Baltimore County, James W. Constable developed a passion for rural land and the outdoor lifestyle it sustains, along with the drive to ensure the natural environment of his home stays pristine.
“When I got out of law school, I knew I wanted to live out there,” he said. “I made a decision that I was going to do my best to make sure the area where I lived was protected.”
After purchasing his own farm in the county years later, Constable, a partner at Wright, Constable & Skeen LLP in Baltimore, became heavily involved with efforts to help preserve the land. Those efforts culminated last month in his appointment as chairman of the board of trustees of the Maryland Environmental Trust, one of the 20 largest land trusts in the country.
The trust protects more than 130,000 acres in the state, organizes educational programs about land conservation and works with smaller, local land trusts to aid their preservation efforts.
For Constable, an avid outdoorsman, it’s a more than just another hobby.
“The wonderful thing about all this preservation work is that you’ve got an outdoors to play around in,” he said. “I love to hike and bike and fly fish. The real benefit of all this land preservation throughout the state is the opportunity it gives to residents and nonresidents to enjoy the outdoors.”
Constable has served on the Maryland Environmental Trust’s board for about seven years, but it was not his first venture into land preservation. Shortly after purchasing his farm in the 1960s, Constable helped form the Manor Area Association — a community group that focuses on preserving the region around My Lady’s Manor, the 10,000-acre tract in Baltimore and Harford counties that Charles Calvert deeded to his fourth wife in 1713.
When a six-lane highway threatened to cut through My Lady’s Manor in the 1970s, Constable assisted with an application to place the area on the National Register of Historic Places.
The application was granted and the highway was stopped, he said.
In the 1980s he became interested in land trusts — nonprofit organizations that can raise money to preserve land by buying it. In 1993, he helped found The Manor Conservancy, a local land trust, where he now serves as president.
Before The Manor Conservancy, there were “one or two” local land trusts in Maryland, Constable said; now, he estimates there are more than 40.
Watching the community of people dedicated to protecting land in the state grow over the years has been one of the most rewarding parts of serving on these boards, said Constable, who practices general business law.
“We had several occasions where farms were up for sale with the potential of being developed,” he said. “By doing all this, we had created a community of people that really were very proud of where they lived. When we needed people to come up to bat to help us raise money to buy a farm that was in jeopardy, we could do it.”
Constable is also a past chairman of the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission and serves on the boards of the Maryland Historical Society and Notre Dame of Maryland University.
The preservation work has also informed Constable’s law practice, improving his knowledge of the practical and legal aspects of nonprofits and giving him the ability to complete an estate plan that would allow a family to pass a farm down to younger generations, he said.
However, he sees the biggest reward of his work when he’s driving through the countryside, he said.
“It’s pretty rare in the United States that in a community that’s pretty close to a metropolitan area like Baltimore, you can find this wide-open area that people can go out there and enjoy,” he said. “In land preservation, you’re leaving something important behind, and you feel like you’ve contributed to the quality of life of future generations.”