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Harriet Tubman's legacy is threatened by sea level rise and climate change. Here's how.

WJLA – Washington D.C. logo WJLA – Washington D.C. 2/24/2021 Veronica Johnson/ABC7

Many of us are aware of Harriet Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad, but few realize her work as a naturalist and learning to read the land.

Harriet Tubman escorted over 300 slaves to freedom traveling mostly at night. She used the knowledge of the land to navigate over the course of 19 missions.

“The Choptank River region is where Tubman was born and raised, where she worked and toiled, where she learned the skills to make her a successful conductor on the underground railroad,“ says Park Manager Dana Paterra.

Harriet spent many hours outdoors in close contact with the natural world. The entire part of Dorchester county was the roaming territory for Harriet Tubman, her family, and friends.

Paterra reminds us that it is this landscape where Harriet Tubman traveled that is historic. It serves as a connection to this freedom fighter and naturalist.

Caption: {p}Harriet Tubman spent many hours outdoors in close contact with the natural world. The entire part of Dorchester county was the roaming territory for Harriet Tubman, her family, and friends.{/p}

“She worked side-by-side in the timber industry with her father, Ben Ross. He was a free African American at the time. He was a trusted and skilled timber foreman. So she worked side-by-side with him, and she learned to read the land, she learned how to forage, and she learned how to survive and she learned how to navigate this vast landscape and these wetlands. So she was the ultimate outdoors person. “

When you walk around rural Dorchester county, you are walking in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman, her relatives, and other freedom seekers. The landscape is as much a part of the story as Harriet Tubman, says Alan Spears historian for National Parks Conservation Association.

“Well, Maryland’s eastern shore is a landscape that Harriet Tubman would recognize if she came back to life today and was wandering around Dorchester county. She would recognize some of the roads and the waterways and the canals and the woods”, says historian Alan Spears- National Parks Conservation Association.


This same area throughout Dorchester county is also in jeopardy of rising sea levels and flooding due to our changing climate.

Most of Maryland's Eastern Shore is being threatened by the climate emergency that we're seeing right now. It is rising sea levels, but also the increased severity of storms that's leading to flooding. You've got coastal erosion in the bay areas, and that's eating away at pieces of the landscape, and you see the threat is not just to the lands that are managed by the National Park Service, but we've got businesses and homes, and other historic and cultural properties that are also damaged by the rising sea levels and flooding that's taking place on the Eastern Shore.

“Unfortunately, it’s all in play and the data indicates that things are only going to get worse as time goes by because we are not seeing the efforts that are needed to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “

Spears says this is the land that resonates with Harriet Tubman's legacy. He is hopeful that science, faith, and great leadership will protect and preserve this land that is so inspiring.

“You have to be hopeful because people's lives and livelihoods are depending upon this and the preservation of this incredible history for this American hero.”


If you haven’t been to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Cambridge, Md. it is very moving. It is 480 acres of trails and a museum that commemorates the life of this great activist.

Caption: If you haven't been to the Harriet Tubman Museum & Park, this video will give you a first-hand look at the museum and its exhibits.

"Well, just in this immediate area, we have the Brodess Farm, which is where Tubman spent her formative years. Her mother, Rit, was enslaved by Edward Brodess there and so she spent time there in the village of Bucktown. We also have the Bucktown Village Store, which is said to be the exact store where Tubman, of course, was hit in the head with that 2-pound lead weight, and that really transformed her faith and her spirituality. She felt she was talking directly to God and getting her direction from him.”

“We are a partnership with the National Park Service. So, we do work together with them to operate and manage the visitor center and provide educational programs to the public. Also, we are located in an area with very few structural and architectural remains or artifacts, but we do have that historic landscape. So, visitors have the opportunity to create those personal connections through the sense of place that they find here.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, you will have to schedule your visit to Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Park and Visitor Center. You will find park operations and information on their website

Taking Nature Black will bestow Harriet Tubman with The Taking Nature Black Legacy Environmental Champion Award, which will be given out during our ceremony during Earth Month on April 15 at 7 p.m.

If you want to learn more about the program and the conference, email or head to


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