Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area is the largest remaining serpentine ecosystem in the eastern United States. Situated in the Baltimore suburbs, its continued preservation is a great testament to the grassroots initiative of local citizens over many decades to save this unique landscape from encroaching development.
I visited at the end of August in 2020 on a sunny day with tufts of white cotton clouds floating in the blue sky. I began on the aptly named Serpentine Trail that wound its way through open grasslands dotted with stunted bear oaks. I could see why settlers called this area The Great Maryland Barrens because they thought the landscape was stony and bare of profitable timber. The lack of some plant life is due to the presence of serpentinite, a beautiful metamorphic rock formed from the ocean’s crust. While the landscape might look barren, it actually creates a very specialized place for certain types of plants. For instance, once serpentinite weathers over time, it forms a magnesium-rich soil where prairie grasses and the bright colors of white asters, pink gerardias, and purplish-blue gentians can tolerate a low-nutrient environment. In fact, with my handy Seek app, I spotted species of horse nettle, partridge pea, milkweed, foxglove, and spiked blazingstars. Not bad for a place once seen as a wasteland.
A few other notable facts and features:
- the area has a storied history as the site for chromium mining to the racing grounds of a local motorcycle club
- features the largest population of sandplain gerardias in the United States
- home to 22 rare plant species and 5 rare invertebrate species
- designated a globally endangered ecosystem
Read more for the barren’s storied history and volunteer opportunities.