Why was the Conservation and Environmental Research Area (CERA) and its trail created? —Delana Gregg’04, instructional systems development

fa15-cera-webThe Conservation and Environmental Research Area (CERA) was the product of a hard-won compromise between UMBC administrators, faculty and local community activists over the creation and expansion of UMBC’s burgeoning bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The fractious debate over the research park (including lawsuits against the university and opposition from significant numbers of UMBC faculty) was resolved in part by faculty proposals to preserve significant amounts of the woodlands surrounding bwtech@UMBC both for conservation and for environmental research and teaching. This CERA was approved and dedicated in 1997.

One of the main features of the CERA is a trail that winds through a portion of the area, highlighting a number of natural, geographic and geological features of the landscape. What most members of the UMBC don’t know about the CERA is that as they walk through its landscape is that they are walking in the vicinity of places where humans have walked for thousands of years – and was even the site of a spa in the 19th century.

A series of archeological studies have identified the land encompassed by the CERA as the site of possible human activity in the Archaic and Woodland periods (8000 BCE -1000 CE). Archaeologists have also identified the foundations, some artifacts, and some wells from a once-thriving spa (the Sulphur Springs Hotel) that opened in the late 1700s and operated into the late 19th century before falling into disrepair. One survey written in 1999 observes that the Sulphur Spring Hotel, while often confused with other-similarly named spas in the region, “appears to have served Baltimore’s emerging middle and upper class at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.”

The exact sites of these activities have been obscured to prevent their further disturbance, but when you walk into the CERA and along its trail, know you are walking not only into nature, but into a bit of history that far predates the founding of the university.

– Richard Byrne ’86