Each autumn, seniors in the Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (FABE) program begin a year-long capstone design experience. Students form teams to address real-world problems sponsored university, local, and national clients and organizations. This year, 118 FABE students are working on 23 projects. In addition, 39 Agricultural Systems Management (ASM) students are working 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 The Ohio State University’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.”
Beginning this past autumn, the group began to lay 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. 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 be hosting three volunteer events in the coming months for volunteers to help remove invasive species and plant native plants:
- Saturday, March 24th
- Saturday, April 7th (as part of Ohio State’s Time for Change Week)
- Sunday, April 22nd (Earth Day)
So far, the group has seen an outpouring of support from the community, a trend they hope continues in the near future. “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.”
To learn more about the upcoming volunteer dates, visit the FLOW Facebook event or contact Jake Radeff at email@example.com.
by Chip Tuson