Upon purchasing 575 acres of forests and fields in Edgewater, MD, on the Chesapeake's western shoreline, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) granted a conservation easement to the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) in partnership with the Scenic River Land Trust (SRLT). The Smithsonian Institution purchased the land, known as the Contee Farm, from the Kirkpatrick-Howat family for $6.2 million. The family and the Smithsonian have worked collaboratively since the founding of SERC in the mid-1960s.
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The mostly forested Contee Farm represents the largest area under a Forest Stewardship Plan in central Maryland and lies at the edge of rapidly expanding development southward from Annapolis. With SERC's other protected properties, this acquisition forms a contiguous watershed landscape that includes 2,650 acres extending across some 4 miles of fields, forests, and wetlands to Chesapeake Bay. Combined with the center's additional land, the site has immense ecological and historical value and is a model of a protected landscape for ecological research, environmental education and public access.
With its historical significance, the Contee Farm presents a fascinating journey through American history. Numerous important archeological sites have been identified on the property from Piscataway Indian campsites, to the ruins of the colonial Contee plantation overlooking the Rhode River. Midgett S. Parker, Partner of Linowes & Blocher LLP (a regional land use law firm) and Chair of the SERC Advisory Board emphasized "The preservation of this property under SERC's stewardship will help all of us to better understand the impact of our planet's ever expanding human population on the coastal interface between the land and water, especially in the Chesapeake Bay watershed."
The ecological and natural conservation of the property provides extensive habitats for a diverse array of game and non-game species, ranging from deer to turkey, geese and waterfowl, to eagles and birds of prey, birds of forest edge and interior, foxes, and myriad amphibians and reptiles in the species inventories for the site.
Further, the Contee Farm has been an integral component of SERC’s research efforts since inception in the 1960s. A wide array of experiments conducted on the farm in collaboration with the Kirkpatrick-Howat family has provided numerous long-term scientific measurements and data collection. Work conducted at various field sites constitutes 42 years of comprehensive data about ecological systems, including some of the longest-running and or largest field studies of their kind anywhere in the world. No other site in Chesapeake Bay or the United States provides as much scientific value for multi-disciplinary analysis of the ecosystems of coastal and estuarine landscapes.
Under a customized conservation easement developed as a model for the Contee Farm, SERC will use the property to expand public programs and education, as well as to sustain long-term research. John Hutson, Acting Director of MET, characterized the agreement as "the most diverse conservation easement, due to the inherent conservation values and proposed land uses, in our Western Shore portfolio". New land and water trails will be developed to link with SERC's current foot-path and canoe trail system. A year-round calendar of activities will be developed for the site, broadening the variety of SERC educational programs that focus on natural history, land stewardship, cultural history and archeology.