Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, recently provided $1.5 million in funding to Washington College for the purchase of two parcels of land at Round Top Creek Lane in Chestertown, Maryland, as a critical addition to its River & Field Campus (RAFC) in Queen Anne’s County. The purchase, which comprises 29 acres, was made possible by an additional $100,000 gift from a Washington College trustee. The purchase will conserve Chester River coastline, mature native trees, and freshwater wetland species. It also provides Washington College with access to an existing pier and boathouse for educational and research opportunities at RAFC.
The College’s RAFC encompasses nearly 5,000 acres of diverse ecological communities just minutes from its main campus in Chestertown, including 2.5 miles of Chester River shoreline, a 90-acre freshwater lake, multiple streams and seasonal wetlands, 1,200 acres of forest, 3,000 acres of agricultural fields, and 228 acres of restored native prairie with natural grasses that have allowed northern bobwhite quail to flourish. The property also features 50 acres of managed, successional habitat for one of the most active bird-banding stations on the East Coast, handling approximately 14,000 birds a year.
“This asset will greatly enhance the ability of Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society to undertake estuarine studies and water quality monitoring on the Upper Chester River,” said Washington College President Mike Sosulski. “As a part of a perpetual conservation easement, this land provides additional habitat to our Natural Lands Project.”
The Natural Lands Project is a partnership of Washington College with several regional conservation organizations and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources that works to make the rural landscape of the Eastern Shore more wildlife friendly. The initiative helps to improve water quality within local watersheds by creating a healthy balance of production farming and wildlife habitat throughout the agricultural landscape. This fall the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology began offering a field ethnobotany course, which will identify native plants of cultural relevance to the new property as well as other habitats of interest at RAFC.
Mt. Cuba Center, a nonprofit botanic garden, is committed to protecting habitats and ecosystems throughout the region. To that end, Mt. Cuba provides funding for open space conservation projects within 100 miles of the 1,094 acres of gardens and natural lands that it cultivates in Hockessin, Delaware.
“Ensuring that open space and the ecologically important habitats, native plants, and wildlife they contain is preserved for future generations is key to Mt. Cuba’s mission,” said Ann Rose, Mt. Cuba Center’s president. “Washington College’s commitment to environmental science and ecological stewardship make it a valued partner in conservation.”
Mt. Cuba’s history with the RAFC property dates back to 2018, when it granted $1.9 million to Washington College to purchase 16 residential parcels, totaling just over 120 acres, on the Chino Farms. The parcels, also a part of a perpetual conservation easement, were merged into the larger land area now known as RAFC.
“The River and Field Campus wraps farming, wildlife preserves, natural and restored habitats, and research facilities into a single property,” said Valerie Imbruce, director of the Center for Environment & Society. “It propels Washington College into the front ranks of schools at the cutting edge of environmental studies, giving it a distinct educational advantage.”
“The River and Field Campus is a resource of national significance,” added Sosulski. “This acquisition will ensure that RAFC remains uncompromised by incompatible development and that it can attain its full capacity as a national model for large landscape conservation and environmental teaching and research.”
More information on RAFC is available at https://www.washcoll.edu/learn-by-doing/rafc/index.php.