By Chip Tuson, Program Manager, Marketing & Communications for the Ohio State University Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences
Each autumn, seniors majoring in Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (FABE) at The Ohio State University begin a yearlong capstone design experience. Students form teams to address real-world problems sponsored university, local, and national clients and organizations. This year, 118 FABE students completed 23 projects. In addition, 39 Agricultural Systems Management (ASM) students also worked on 12 projects in a similar exercise.
One group of ecological and biological engineering students chose a project close to home with those familiar with Ohio State’s Columbus campus: restoring the Carmack Woods. The Carmack Woods are a 6.5-acre undeveloped area on the west side of the Columbus Campus.
“There was a point in time when the university considered developing the Carmack Woods area into a parking lot because they are losing a large parking area near medical campus,” said the team, consisting of ecological engineering majors Monica Backs, Lucas Froelich, Jake Radeff, Patrick Sanders, and biological engineering major Gio Papio. “Each of us listed this amongst our top requested projects because we each have a passion for the environment and preserving it for future generations.”
The site was sponsored as a capstone project by the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW). While Ohio State no longer plans to turn the area into a parking lot, FLOW hopes to keep the area protected — a goal that the student team believes will ultimately benefit the University.
Under the University Sustainability Goals, Ohio State is planning to double the tree canopy converge on campus. By preserving the Carmack Woods, the group believes it can help Ohio State reach its sustainability goals while restoring the area to be a healthy wetland of benefit to the campus and local community.
“Wetlands have a tremendous importance to environmental wellbeing. They can hold water for long amounts of time, which can heavily reduce the amount of toxins in water. Additionally, by holding storm water, wetlands slow storm water entering the sewer system, and can prevent erosion. Finally, wetlands store large amounts of carbon, preventing it from returning to the atmosphere,” the group said.
The group began by delineating the area as a wetland, a major step in preserving the Carmack Woods for years to come: “Should Ohio State choose to develop Carmack Woods, it is required by law that any area delineated as a wetland would have to be ‘moved’ or re-established elsewhere for mitigation. These constructed wetlands take a long time to become established and are not as environmentally beneficial as naturally occurring wetlands. The mitigation process is also expensive, which is another factor the university should consider.”
With the help of a Coca-Cola Sustainability Grant from the Office of Student Life Energy Management & Sustainability, the team was able to purchase equipment to remove harmful native plants and native species to plant in the woods.
“Receiving the grant from Coca-Cola shifted our focus immensely. What started as a boardwalk design project became an invasive species removal and ecosystem re-establishment endeavor,” said the team.
Previously, replacing the invasive honeysuckle plaguing the Carmack Woods with native plants would have been too expensive. But with funding from the grant, the group shifted focus to improving the ecological health and biodiversity of the area by replacing honeysuckle shrubs with native trees and plants. In order to see this goal through, the team sought help from the local and campus communities.
“By opening up the site for students and the surrounding community, we hope to increase public interest in the area and bring awareness to the environmental importance of wetlands,” said the group. “Getting their hands dirty and helping preserve a natural area close to home will be an exciting, fulfilling and fun experience.”
The outpouring of support was tremendous. “We have received a lot of help and donations from external sources such as FLOW, Coca-Cola, Green Columbus, MAD Scientists & Associates, LLC., Pay It Forward, Mount Leadership Society Scholars, and other student organizations on campus.”
The Carmack Woods capstone team hosted three volunteer events over the months of March and April. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the team was able to remove invasive species and plant over 500 native plants, shrubs, and seedlings in the woods.
Though their project took place over a few months, the impact of this capstone team will be felt on the Columbus campus for years to come. To learn more about other capstone projects from FABE and ASM students, visit fabe.osu.edu and follow the department on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @OhioStateFABE. Or to become an industry sponsor and work with future Capstone teams, contact one of our FABE course instructors, Jane Fife at firstname.lastname@example.org.