Saturday, April 26, 2008

Emiquon Field Station dedication held

By Courtney Westlake

It was a momentous occasion on Friday, April 25, as an excited crowd braved the strong winds and rain to celebrate the dedication and ribbon-cutting of the new Emiquon Field Station at the Emiquon Preserve located near Havana, Illinois, along the Illinois River.

The Illinois River is part of one of the greatest large-floodplain river ecosystems in the world. A century ago, most of the Illinois Rivers' floodplain was isolated from the river and converted to agricultural land, which significantly altered the natural ecological processes of seasonal flooding that sustained the ecosystem.

In 2007, however, the Nature Conservancy and UIS teamed up to transform 7,425 acres of land immediately adjacent to the Illinois River and owned by The Nature Conservancy back to its original state of a floodplain, which is one of the biggest transformations of its kind in the world.

UIS decided to establish the Emiquon Field Station to study, research, and document this incredible transformation and give students the opportunity to learn at the site. Dr. Michael Lemke, professor of biology at UIS, is the director of the field station.

During the field station dedication ceremony, Lemke explained how the restoration of the floodplain began and gave thanks to everyone involved who made the restoration and the field station possible.

"The physical function of the field station allows the vision that a lot of us have here; many of us have been busy studying this 7,000 acre-land restoration," he said. "A lot of planning and foresight has gone into this project. There is a chance for students here to learn biology, ecology, anthropology and many other disciplines."

The station features laboratories and an electronic classroom, Lemke said. The classroom lets instructors teach over the Web or bring guest speakers from distant locations to Emiquon, providing a connection to the rest of the world.

"Stories here at Emiquon aren't just for college-age students; we plan to share what is going on here with people from 'K to gray' through workshops, outreach and other ways," Lemke said. "I'm excited about sharing the stories here that have a global impact."

The Emiquon Project and the field station are right in line with UIS' goal to become one of the top five public, liberal arts universities in the country, said UIS Chancellor Richard Ringseisen.

"One of the phrases we like to use a lot is 'local excellence, global impact,' and if there's ever been an example of that, it certainly is this station," Ringeisen said. "This is an excellent and highly visible example of statewide and national recognition, so we're very excited today."

The field station is more than just a new building and observatory, Lemke said.

"It's also the people that work here. All of the people that have planned this and made it happen are part of the life of Emiquon," he said.

With the dedication of the new field station, UIS is becoming part of the long, rich history of the Emiquon floodplain, said UIS Provost Harry Berman.

"Dreams can come true," Berman said. "And with dreams come responsibility. At UIS, we now have a responsibility to take advantage of this wonderful facility and the splendid opportunities it offers to faculty and students. We will teach here, we will do research here, and in partnership with the Nature Conservatory, we will educate the public about biodiversity and conservation."

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Emiquon Provides Endless Opportunities for UIS

By Courtney Westlake

Strong gusts of wind swept over the lake and fields on a recent Saturday as Dr. Michael Lemke guided a group tour near Thompson Lake in western Illinois. Though the shallow waters are just starting to gain the appearance of a lake, the land’s new look is a vast improvement from the previous decades of farmland.

The 7,425 acres of land located near the towns of Lewiston and Havana (about 45 miles northwest from Springfield on the Illinois River), is known as Emiquon, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Emiquon is now in the beginning stages of a transformation from farmland to its natural state as part of one of the largest restorations in the country.

A century ago, much of the Illinois River’s floodplain was converted to agricultural lands. The changes that occurred to the land eliminated or changed the important ecological processes of seasonal flooding that sustained the productivity and diversity of the Illinois River ecosystem.

But the past few years have brought about plans to restore this area of land, Lemke said. Now, UIS is currently working on the construction of the Emiquon Field Station, which will provide the opportunity for UIS students and researchers, and the general public, to learn more about the restoration and the natural state of the land.

Lemke, an associate professor of biology at UIS, is now serving as the director of Emiquon and the field station, which is slated to be finished in the next couple of months. The field station will train students in field biology techniques, help students and the public to learn more about the natural processes of the floodplain, freshwater ecology and the restoration, and teach them how to research effectively.

There are a variety of ways for students to become involved with Emiquon and the future field station, Lemke said. Current projects include students studying water quality, and there are other projects “on deck”, Lemke said, including matching up students and researchers to conduct studies and take on various projects in the area. And volunteerism is always a great method of involvement.

“My vision for field station is that it will be a very busy place. Students who would like to go out and get their hands dirty and help take out species that are invasive could volunteer in that way – some different plants and so forth,” he said. “Besides volunteers, classes are another way to get involved.”

Hybrid courses and online classes will give students the ability to learn about topics online and conduct field studies, Lemke said.

“And we’ll be having more and more fieldtrips once the field station is done, as well as workshops,” he added. “This past week we had about 40 students go out and explore biodiversity out there.”

Eventually, the Nature Conservancy has plans to open up the Illinois River so that the floodplain lake can connect, which will add a whole new level of complexity and ecological function to study, Lemke said. UIS is providing key services in recording what occurs during the restoration, which could offer ways to conduct more restorations up and down the Mississippi River, Lemke said.

“I think not to tell the story of the Emiquon Restoration would be a real disservice to society,” Lemke said. “There are real lessons here. To take on a restoration project of this size and learn from that, and then use that as a blueprint for other restorations has implications not only for habitat and wildlife, but also for water quality and just sound environmental management.”

“We’re here on the ground level and we’ll be able to follow it, which makes this a wonderful opportunity.”

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