Published Apr 19th, 2009 for The Lantern.
Just more than a mile north of Ohio Stadium, near the Olentangy River, lies a wetland – and it belongs to Ohio State.
The Olentangy River Wetland Research Park (ORWRP) has a reputation for its extensive research and eco-tourism. In June 2008, it was selected as the 24th Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in the United States, Ohio’s first and a designation shared with the Everglades National Park.
The wetland is operated by faculty, students and volunteers, but is funded largely by donations and grants.
“We give about a 150 tours a year, from school groups to garden clubs from all over the country,” said William J. Mitsch, director of ORWRP and professor of natural resources and environmental science. “There was even a Korean film crew that came here last year to make a documentary.”
Wednesday, April 22 is Earth Day and ORWRP administrators are hoping to set the Guinness World Record for simultaneous water sampling.
“Everyone that comes out will be able to take a sample,” said Paul Hartzog, a senior in zoology. “We are opening up the wetlands to the public and other students of Ohio State to come out and see what it is like.”
Hartzog has been involved with the wetland since Winter Quarter and is just one of many students and staff who spend time working at the wetland. “I actually didn’t know the wetlands existed until after I took wetland ecology with Dr. Mitsch,” Hartzog said. “I found out what volunteer work was available and now have a job processing water samples in the lab.”
After graduating this spring, Hartzog plans to further study wetlands and their importance in ecology.
“The wetland got me a lot of exposure to the field,” Hartzog said. “It helped me narrow down my focus and talked to a lot of great people who were in the field.”
In 1987, before it was a wetland, the area used to be farmland for corn.
“It was an unwanted floodplain, perfect for wetlands,” Mitsch said. By 1994 two marshes were ready for experimental wetland research. Then in 2003 the Heffner Wetland Research and Education Building was completed. Today it is busy with constant research by graduate and doctoral students, cumulating in dozens of theses and dissertations.
“I started volunteering here and really liked it,” said Felice Forby, graduate student in rural sociology. “You don’t really find these kinds of places in Ohio anymore. They’re either drained or destroyed.” Forby finished her undergraduate work at OSU in international studies and Japanese. “I wanted to combine both my interest in biology and international studies, but didn’t know how until recently.”
The ORWRP includes two experimental wetlands, a billabong and bike path open to the public.
“There’s a lot of diversity in species of birds that you’ll see just by taking one walk around the park,” Forby said. “It’s nice to be part of something that’s improving the environment.”
From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, the public is invited to tour the wetlands facility and volunteer for park cleanup and plant removal.
“We find out that Mother Nature is pretty smart and takes care of a lot of things for free,” Mitsch said.
This year there is also a competition for a $500 award for an undergraduate student and a $1,000 award for one graduate student. It is part of an endowment from Rhonda and Paul Sipp, offered to students conducting wetland and river research. The application due date is April 30.
“I think it was a really good process for guiding my decision for the next step in my schooling career,” Hartzog said. “The events on Wednesday and Saturday are designed to make the public more aware of what we do out there and the importance of wetlands.”
The ORWRP is located off Dodridge Street and more information can be found at swamp.osu.edu.