OSU WETLANDS RESEARCH PARK GOING STRONG AFTER 10 YEARS
In a city known for shopping malls and extensive residential development there sits a mecca of sorts, a 30-acre wetland research park just north of the Ohio State University campus that attracts birds, animals and researchers.
The Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, ORWRP, celebrated its tenth anniversary this month. The 30-acre complex of marshes and wet forests is a kind of natural supermarket for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, which come here to eat.
"It's one of the most distinct living laboratories on any college campus in the country," said Bill Mitsch, director of ORWRP and a professor of natural resources and environmental science at Ohio State. "It's also a prime way to study the long-term behavior of these ecosystems. That's one reason why it's so important to have this facility on a university campus."
Wetlands are often called the “kidneys” of the landscape, because they filter environmental pollutants, provide flood control and clean the ground water supply. And they’re being destroyed at an alarming rate – more than 50 percent of the wetlands in the United States have disappeared in the past 200 years.
Put simply, the loss of wetlands means the loss of the ability to provide clean water, to keep rivers and lakes in check and to enhance biological diversity.
The ORWRP features three marshes and 13 acres of wet woods. Two of the main marshes are experimental. At two-and-a-half acres each, these kidney-shaped areas give Mitsch and his fellow researchers clues as to how man-made vs. natural wetlands behave. Ten years ago, volunteers planted one marsh – the “man-made” marsh – with wetland vegetation and left the other, “natural” marsh unplanted. Mitsch said he will wait 20 years if he must to compare the similarities and differences between the two marshes.
“Given that amount of time, we should be able to determine the benefits and drawbacks of artificial wetlands,” he said. “We’ve got about 10 years left for this experiment.”
Mitsch calls the third marsh a “billabong,” after the Australian term for a type of riverine wetland. This seven-acre, 7-year-old billabong is considered a mitigated wetland because it was built to compensate for the loss of about three acres of wetlands in a neighboring county.
"In January, the billabong held back millions of gallons of Olentangy River flood water that otherwise might have ended up in someone's basement," Mitsch said. "And flood water that passes through this wetland is generally cleaner when it leaves."