By Vic Sutton

The distance from Southwest DC to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, MD is just thirty miles. But for a number of students from Southwest, a field trip to SERC felt like a visit to another planet.

The main focus of scientific work at SERC is the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and ways to defend it. But the Center also has an active program of educational outreach, and on June 27, the Youth Activities Task Force (YATF) of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) organized a field trip to SERC.

The trip was organized by Thelma Jones, YATF Chair, together with YATF members Bonnie and Vic Sutton, who joined the trip as chaperones. YATF Treasurer Rick Bardach kindly provided transport.

The group set out for SERC at 9:15, from the office of the James Creek Resident Council whose President, Christine Spencer, had recruited eleven students to take part in the field trip. Two parents also joined the trip.

The students’ first activity was a class about blue crabs. They learned how many legs a blue crab has, what its swimming legs are for and how it uses its claws. They also learned how to tell the difference between a male and a female crab.

The group then went down to the SERC floating dock, on the Rhode River, to look at small mud crabs and see how they scurry for cover under oyster shells when threatened.

The next activity, probably the favorite, was to put on waders and go seining out in the water. A seine net is used to scoop up the fish, crustaceans and other creatures who live in the river waters. The students netted some small fish and plenty of little shrimp. When that activity wrapped up, a couple of students asked: “Can we stay here?”

Finally, students went for a hike through the wooded area next to the river. They saw a box tortoise, the remains of a small dead deer and a racoon skeleton, as well as lots of dragonflies. 

It was a very hot day, but the students had hats, plenty of water, and lunch. The instruction from the SERC docents was excellent.

It was 3 p.m. before the group set off back to DC. Rick Bardach states that the students’ comment was: “That was the best field trip ever!” And each student got to take home a cooked crab to eat.

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