Ilia J. Fehrer

(1927 - 2007)

Ilia Fehrer gave the citizens of Maryland many gifts - an unspoiled Pocomoke River and Chincoteague Bay, millions of dollars worth of land conservation, legislation to protect wildlife and water quality, and the education of thousands. Her legacy includes Assateague Islands state and national parks, the designation of the Pocomoke as a "wild and scenic river," the Nassawango Creek Preserve and the Worcester County rural legacy area. She battled offshore waste incineration, the building of an industrial park near Ocean City, the needless destruction of acres of wetlands and forests and the permitting of ill-planned communities.

Ilia Fehrer grew up on a family farm in central Maryland. In 1942, her family moved to Baltimore where she graduated from high school and attended Towson University. She taught elementary school in Baltimore, married Joe Fehrer Sr., and raised eight children. With their move to Snow Hill, her career as Worcester County's environmental conscience began

In 1972, she opposed the rezoning of 3200 acres in central Worcester County and appealed the county's decision to Maryland's highest court, curtailing damage to some of Worcester's prime farmland. From this effort came the Worcester Environmental Trust that today holds easements protecting ecological habitat within county subdivisions. For the next three decades she "watch-dogged" state agencies commenting on applications and attending hearings for wetland disturbances, reported soil and erosion control violations, called for hearings on water and sewer permits and opposed the hardening of our shorelines, while championing soft shoreline protections.

Mrs. Feher and her husband, Joe, canoed the Pocomoke, inventorying the river's environmental and wildlife assets. In the 1980s, they spearheaded the effort to establish a water quality-monitoring program, prevented the damming of Nassawango Creek and convinced the Nature Conservancy to preserve the creek and upland forest that has grown to 10,000 acres and founded the Nassawango Creek Stewardship Committee that oversees the protection of this area. In 2003, the Chesapeake Bay Trust recognized Mrs. Feher for her efforts on behalf of the environment with the Ellen Fraites Wagner Award; she and her husband also received the Feinstone Environmental Award at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 1987

During the 1990s, Mrs. Feher help established the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. She served a 5-year term on the Worcester County Planning Commission and was one of the first citizen stakeholders to serve on the habitat restoration subcommittee that advanced the coastal bays rural legacy area. In 2002, Mrs. Feher and her husband received that program's first Osprey Award for their efforts in protecting Maryland's coastal bays.

As a member of the Committee to Preserve Assateague, known now as the Assateague Coastal Trust, she testified before Congress to save the Island. Every New Year's Day Mrs. Feher led a nature walk on the island that now bears her name in remembrance.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2009.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2009