Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) is the world's leading research center for environmental studies of the coastal zone. Our accomplishments range from running some of the longest continuous ecological studies in the world, to creating new technology that expands the horizons of science.

A diverse staff of 18 senior scientists and an interdisciplinary team of more than 180 researchers, technicians, and students conduct long-term descriptive and experimental research addressing such issues as global change, the effects of nutrients and chemicals passing through our landscapes, maintenance of productive fisheries, changes to our environment from biological invaders, and protection of fragile wetlands and woodlands.

SERC has 3,000+ acres of wildlife conservation area along 14 miles of pristine shoreline. There are two trails open to everyone, each approximately 1.5 miles long. We also offer Saturday programs for the public ranging from walks and talks to canoe tours of Muddy Creek and the Rhode River.

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Image Credit: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center


The center is open 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Saturday year-round, with the exception of national holidays.

(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)


There are no fees to access the center.


  • Java History Trail (1.5 miles) - describing the history and land use on the SERC property from the early days of the Piscataway Native Americans through plantation farming to the research conducted here today
  • Discovery Trail (1.5 miles) - winds along Muddy Creek and mature hardwood forests.
  • Kayak and canoe launching at our boat ramp (no motorized boats)
  • Bird watching opportunities
  • Educational and fun activities for children and families Saturdays and during the week for the public, organized groups, and schools.
  • Special events such as the SERC Open House, the Second weekend in May
  • Evening Lecture Series by researchers and biologists from all over the East Coast


In 1962, a southern Maryland dairy farmer named Mr. Robert Lee Forrest died. In his will, he bequeathed his 368-acre Java dairy farm and other holdings on the Rhode River in southern Anne Arundel County, Md., to the Smithsonian Institution. Initial discussions entertained the idea of selling the property to add to the Smithsonian's endowment. But the new incoming secretary, S. Dillon Ripley, persuaded the Institution to consider holding onto it and exploring the property's potential. 

It quickly became apparent that the Java farm and surrounding area provided a wide variety of habitats for terrestrial, wetland, and estuarine field biology and ecology. The center was officially established in 1965 as the Chesapeake Bay Center for Field Biology. At the time, the founders expected the center to serve as a field collecting site, where scientists from the Smithsonian, local universities and government agencies would collect samples and data during the day and return to their own labs. Major on-site facilities and staff were not part of the initial vision.


Last updated: July 07, 2022
Bay Gateways Captain John Smith Chesapeake Trail