Saving a Wetland
“Wetlands have a tremendous importance to environmental well-being.”Patrick Sanders
By Chip Tuson
Each autumn, seniors in the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (FABE) begin a year-long capstone design experience. Students form teams to address real-world problems and work with university, local and national clients and organizations. This year, 118 FABE students are working on 23 projects. In addition, 39 Agricultural Systems Management majors are working on 12 capstone projects.
One group of ecological and biological engineering students chose a project close to home: restoring the Carmack Woods, a 6.5-acre undeveloped area on the west side of the Ohio State’s 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 team member Patrick Sanders. “This was a top requested project for us because we each have a passion for the environment and preserving it for future generations.”
The Carmack Woods team consists of ecological engineering majors Sanders, Monica Backs, Lucas Froelich, Jake Radeff, Patrick Sanders, and biological engineering major Gio Papio.
The site is being 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 Carmack Woods, the group believes it can help the university reach its sustainability goals while restoring the area to be a healthy wetland that can benefit both campus and the local community.
“Wetlands have a tremendous importance to environmental well-being. They can hold water for long amounts of time, which can heavily reduce the amount of toxins in water,” Sanders said. “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.”
Beginning this past autumn, the group began laying the groundwork for their project, which included delineating the area as a wetland, determining the ecological value of the area, and constructing a new boardwalk through the area.
So far, the group has already been successful in 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,” explained student Jake Radeff. “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.”
In order to meet their other goals, the group applied for a Coca-Cola Sustainability Grant through the Office of Student Life Energy Management & Sustainability. In January, the team learned they were awarded the grant.
“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 new funding from the grant, the group can focus on 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 is seeking 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 Carmack Woods capstone team will host three volunteer events to help remove invasive species and plant native plants. The first event was held on Saturday, March 24. Additional volunteer events are planned for:
- Saturday, April 7th (honeysuckle removal as part of Ohio State’s Time for Change Week
- Sunday, April 22nd (tree planting as part of Earth Day)
So far, the group has seen an outpouring of community support, a trend they hope continues in the near future. Help and donations have been received from external groups as FLOW, Coca-Cola, Green Columbus, MAD Scientists & Associates, LLC., Pay It Forward, Mount Leadership Society Scholars, and other student organizations on campus.