Few Marylanders know that just 25 miles from the nation's capital is a 2,650-acre campus of protected shoreline and ecological research in their backyards. On the shores of Edgewater, Md., the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) provides educational programs for everyone from kindergartners to seniors in high school, with the goal of inspiring the next generation to become stewards of the earth.
Established in 1965, SERC has been conducting groundbreaking research to understand the intricacies of the rapid change in the state's most precious natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. Dr. Anson Hines, director and principal investigator at SERC for almost 40 years, says the findings at the center have led to the passage of critical legislation including responsible land development, planting forest buffer zones and wetlands that prevent soil erosion, sustaining the blue crab fishery, and more.
"Maryland's quality of life and our natural resources depend on the ecosystems of the watershed and ocean linked through our rivers and the Bay," Dr. Hines said. "What we do at the Smithsonian is provide sound science for conserving, restoring and managing these valuable resources that everyone depends on." SERC's research extends to other sites around the world, including San Francisco Bay, Alaska, Florida, Belize, Panama, and as far south as Antarctica.
SERC is one of the largest landowners in Anne Arundel County, with 2,650 acres and 15 miles of Chesapeake shoreline, providing hiking, canoeing and kayaking for visitors to enjoy. The center also provides university-level internships, and welcomes more than 250 international visitors and 6,000 local student visitors each year. But SERC is still not widely known outside of the realm of academia, a challenge that Dr. Hines says the staff is committed to overcoming.
"One of our big goals is to increase our public profile and engagement through a wide-range of outreach programs to help solve environmental problems," said Dr. Hines. "Our Bay Optimism program focuses on the success of bay research and implemented changes that provide positive environmental solutions. We are also training the next generation of research scientists, and building an army of citizen scientist volunteers."
The programs provided by the center – like its free monthly evening lecture series – are an incredibly valuable resource for the public of all ages. According to Dr. Hines, there is more environmental awareness in today's society than ever before, but the Chesapeake's health still has progress to make.
"People are much more attuned with the idea of watershed health and how what runs off the land affects the bay," Dr. Hines said. "I've been working with the Chesapeake Bay for nearly 40 years, and there's definitely been positive change, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
For more information about the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center visit serc.si.edu.