Ohio State University’s renowned Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, which opened its doors 20 years ago, is now in the process of opening them wider.
The 52-acre Columbus facility is undergoing $75,000 in renovations to its main teaching and research building as part of a broader effort to increase the park’s access, use and impact.
Programs in the park focus on how wetlands function, how to create and restore them, and how they benefit the environment and people. Water from the adjacent Olentangy River fills two main experimental wetlands at the site, which are each about the size of two football fields. Ohio State officials call it the only facility like it on a university campus.
“The Schiermeier is uniquely positioned to more broadly address problems related to water supply and quality in Ohio and beyond,” said Ron Hendrick, director of Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, of which the park is a part.
“However, to facilitate this, we need to increase (the park’s) ability to attract additional researchers, educators and outreach professionals,” he said. “They, in turn, will expand our impact on students, environmental professionals and the public.”
Lynn McCready, an Ohio State research associate who manages the park’s day-to-day operations, said improvements include installing two new classrooms in the Heffner Wetland Research and Education Building, which have tripled the park’s classroom capacity, and adding new offices in the building for graduate students and visiting scholars.
“In addition to our traditional ‘Wetlands Management and Ecology’ course, two other courses are newly based at the facility during autumn semester, ‘Aquatic Ecology Methods’ and ‘Aquatic Invertebrates,’ ” McCready said. “We’re looking forward to continuing this expansion.”
The park’s computer systems have also been upgraded to safeguard research data collected at the site, including historical data from the past two decades, McCready said.
Putting video conferencing equipment in the classrooms may be next, which could expand enrollment opportunities for Ohio State students in Wooster and at the university’s other regional campuses, she said.
“Many times we have collaborative research projects with scientists in other states and countries,” McCready said. “We need to have a better capacity to hold meetings with them and discuss our research.
“That would be one of the primary focuses of that equipment. But it also allows us to start thinking about webinars and expanding our outreach. That’s very important to us.”
Coming down the road may be ramped-up programs for K-12 educators, Ohio State undergraduate students, and students from other colleges and universities, she said.
And the park’s research focus may expand to include not just wetlands but wider water resource issues and possibly urban wildlife, McCready said.
William J. Mitsch, a former Distinguished Professor of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State, established the park in 1992. The international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 2008 named it an “International Wetland of Importance” for its scientific contributions, visitor efforts, and diverse plant and animal life.
“It’s a unique resource that enjoys a long history of on-site research, wide recognition and strong public support,” Hendrick said.
McCready compared the park to an urban field station.
“It’s right next to the university, centrally located in the Columbus metropolitan area,” she said. “And the community feels very attached to it.
“We really want to open it up and see it utilized to its greatest potential. We want to make it easier for people to use and really expand the research, outreach and educational opportunities.”
Funds for the renovations came from the school, Hendrick said.
The park is at 352 Dodridge St. on Columbus’s north side. It’s adjacent to the Olentangy Trail bike path and is open to the public for walking, birdwatching and similar activities.
For more information, visit the park’s website at http://swamp.osu.edu/.