AU Growing again

By Glenn Battishill

Anyone who drives from Ashland to Mansfield passes a marsh on Route 42. Observant drivers will notice an observation tower sitting in the middle of the marsh.

Currently the observation tower and the walkway are the only man made components of the Black Fork Wetlands Enviromental Studies Center, but soon a classroom will be built on the site that will allow for longer research trips and lessons.

The preserve is owned by Ashland University and is the largest of the university’s five environmental preserves at 298 acres. The preserve is visited up to about two dozen times a year by community groups and several classes at Ashland University, in addition to being used by various faculty and students researchers.

Marshlands offer unique opportunities because of their biodiversity and the large amount different habitats, including swamp forest, marsh, riparian corridor and buttonbrush swamp all of which support wildlife.

The preserve is home, or at least a popular place to visit or hunt, to a veritable menagerie of wildlife ranging from fish, amphibians, insects and birds.

It also hosts good plant diversity and is the home of several rare plants, which associate biology professor and current director of the Enviromental Science Program, Patricia Saunders, says a sign of a healthy habitat.

Even this year’s relatively dry summer had no ill effects on the marshlands.

Saunders explained that water level meters monitored the preserve over the summer and while the water level decreased it never dried out.

While the summer may have been dry, the preserve often floods, a fact the designer of the classroom is aware of.

“The structure will be flood tolerant,” Saunders said. “The design of the building reflects the nature and needs of the site.”

Saunders hopes the new classroom will provide new opportunities to visitors to the center. Its bathroom and electricity will allow field trips to stay for hours longer than before and now students can collect samples and examine them without ever leaving the site.

“The preserve was always intended for community access,” Saunders said. “We are open to people who want to get involved in the preserve.”

Anyone interested in getting involved in the preserve should contact Patricia Saunders.

The new center was supposed to have held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept 21, but the event was postponed and is being rescheduled for Spring 2013.