Serpentine Ecosystem Restoration Program

When: March 19, 2023
  8:45 am Sunday
Where: Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area
5100 Deer Park Road
Owings Mills, MD 21117
How Much: FREE, Donations Welcome!

serpphoto02.jpgThe main goal of the Serpentine Ecosystem Restoration Program (SERP) is to restore the area to its pre-European settlement habitat of native oak savanna (also known as a serpentine barren). During European colonization of the area, the natural cycle of fire from lightning strikes and native American hunting techniques was suppressed, causing the once-plentiful scrub oaks, tall grasses and wildflowers of the oak savanna to give way to other plant species. Our restoration efforts include reintroducing the process of fire in the form of prescribed burns. We manually remove plant species that took root when the fire culture was interrupted, including fire-intolerant Virginia pine, eastern red cedar and greenbrier.

SERP events are generally conducted on alternating Sundays through December, January, February and March. At each event, a different area of concern is addressed, so the day's activities are always diverse and interesting! Volunteers might help in clearing and creating firebreaks, or drag, chip and burn Virginia pine, or mark invasive species for later eradication.

We assemble a bit before 9:00 AM in the Visitor Center parking lot for a briefing. There is paperwork to complete for first-time volunteers and then we hike or carpool (depending on the distance) to the location needing attention and are generally outdoors working on the Serpentine by 9:30 a.m. We break for lunch (bring your own) at about noon. Work is usually completed, and we debrief and disperse, between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m.

During the debriefing, volunteers are encouraged to offer comments and suggestions. If you are unable to commit to the entire five or six hours, you may leave early. Whatever time you are able to give is deeply appreciated.

Be sure to dress for winter weather, which means wearing multiple layers. Generally, you are advised to wear older, heavier outer garments, since the restoration work often takes us into heavy or thorny underbrush. Bring thick, leather work gloves as we also often cut and haul logs and build brush piles for burning.

Our SERP coordinator, Maryland's Wildlife and Heritage Service biologist Paula Becker, has a dozen or so sets of leather chaps to loan, which offer good protection against greenbrier thorns. Some work gloves are also available, but volunteers should bring their own. Wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and bring a hat and lots of drinking water. It's surprising how thirsty you can get working in cold weather.  If you can bring your own pair of long-handled loppers, that will also be very much appreciated.

If inclement weather threatens, volunteers should call Paula Becker at 410-260-8568 on the Saturday evening before the event to see if it's been cancelled. If the event is cancelled, a message at that number will say so, No message, we go as planned. If an event is cancelled, it will be automatically rescheduled for the following Sunday.

If you are looking for an ideal way to work off some holiday pounds, get a good workout in the great outdoors, earn Service Learning Hours, or do significant good in service of conservation, participating in a SERP event is a wonderful way to make a tangible difference in a sensitive, unique and wonderful natural environment.

Questions or to sign up for an upcoming SERP event? Call Paula Becker at 410-260-8568 or email her at