Seeing Smithville, and Other Places in the Same Boat

by Rona Kobell

Editor Rona Kobell in the field. Photo, Nicole Lehming / MDSG
Editor Rona Kobell in the field. Photo, Nicole Lehming / MDSG

Sometimes we look at a place but never really see it. Such was the case with Smithville, a small Eastern Shore community on the fringe of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County. Smithville’s remaining residents worry as a nearby marsh encroaches on their beloved church and adjacent cemetery. Most of the houses were abandoned long ago, but the church is a beacon for the surrounding communities, and the cemetery is an important link to their past.

I asked many longtime Eastern Shore residents about Smithville; most hadn’t heard of it, though they often drove by it. Like many small Shore towns, Smithville has lost population because of a variety of factors, some environmental and some economic. Many communities — some on islands, some on low-lying places on the mainland — are seeing increased flooding, eroding banks, rising water levels, and marsh migration. Residents aren’t certain how to live with these changes.

To help communities discuss the landscape changes happening around them, a group of University of Maryland anthropologists developed a community network they hope can develop solutions. Called collaborative learning, this approach has brought together county officials, residents, faith leaders, and specialists from regional universities. Already, the effort has led to a living shoreline project on Deal Island that will help protect property in a fast eroding area. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources broke ground on the project last summer.

In this issue of Chesapeake Quarterly, we share stories and data from the collaborative learning project, as well as features on the changing marshes that help to protect Shore communities. We’ll also tell you how Sea Grant funding is helping two fellows learn more about contaminants in Baltimore waterways.

We couldn’t produce this work without our talented staff and interns. In this issue, we’ll introduce a few people: Taryn Sudol, who is coordinating scientific information on marshes and organizing a summit for researchers; Jennifer Dindinger, a watershed specialist helping Shore communities stay resilient in the face of climate change; communications interns Ben Anderson of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Alexandra Grayson of Howard University; and Wyman Jones Jr. and Jalysa Mayo, filmmakers trained at Morgan State University, who have helped us bring the Smithville story to film. Special thanks to Patricia Delgado at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary for her assistance with the marsh graphic.

We hope the stories reveal places and issues you might have missed. And if we’ve neglected something, as always, please let us know.

— Rona Kobell

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