Floodplain restoration presents historic opportunity for education, research
SPRINGFIELD – Taking advantage of a critical moment in time, the University of Illinois at Springfield will break ground today for a field station at Emiquon Preserve along the Illinois River near Lewistown. At the Emiquon Field Station faculty and students will study education and research floodplains, particularly the restoration of The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve.
The largest floodplain restoration project in the Midwest, the 7,100-acre Emiquon Preserve is the premier demonstration site for the Conservancy's work on the Illinois River and within the Upper Mississippi River system and may ultimately help guide large floodplain river restoration efforts around the world. The restoration began this spring and is of considerable interest to scientists and environmentalists around the world because it is one of the first river reclamation efforts to be undertaken on such a large scale.
Students conduct field research at Emiquon.
"The restoration of Emiquon is a once-in-a-century opportunity to rediscover the past, immerse in the study of the present, and plan for the future," said Mike Lemke, associate professor of Biology at UIS. Lemke and Keith Miller, professor of Computer Science at UIS, will direct the field station, to be located just north of the Conservancy's office on the west side of State Route 78 near Dickson Mounds. The site of the station is on a low bluff overlooking the Emiquon Preserve, which is about 55 miles northwest of Springfield.
"At this critical moment, as the preserve is transformed, the Emiquon Field Station will aid in assessment of the restoration efforts and help tell the scientific story," Lemke said. "Because major changes are about to occur to the ecology of the area, it is vital to establish a baseline of information about the land, the water, and the organisms at Emiquon."
Lemke said the data can be used to better understand the changes that occur as the preserve – converted to cropland about 80 years ago – is restored to a complex system of backwater wetlands and lakes that will eventually serve once again as a vital component of the Illinois River. Habitat for migratory birds and several indigenous species of mammals, reptiles, and insects will be reestablished.
In this first phase of the restoration process, planting by the Conservancy and partner organizations is covering 1,400 acres of bottomland forest, tallgrass prairie, wet prairie, upland forest, and wetland. "We are moving forward in increasing the biodiversity with the number of plants we are putting on the ground," said Jason Beverlin, Emiquon project director for the Conservancy. A total of 260,000 trees and 8,000 pounds of seed have been planted, as well as thousands of prairie flowers and plants. By fall, an additional 90,000 upland shrubs and trees will be planted.
Construction of the 3,600-foot field station will begin in early July with completion expected in December, according to Dave Barrows, executive director of facilities and services at UIS. The station will house offices, a smart classroom, conference room, library/study, wet and dry laboratories, and sample and chemical storage spaces.
Lemke said UIS will work with the Conservancy and The Illinois State Museum to design education and research efforts that will include experts in science as well as non-science fields. "UIS will coordinate this effort, but scholars from many institutions will take part in the teaching and research at Emiquon," Lemke said. "We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other universities and agencies to coordinate research initiatives to help meet management goals of the Emiquon property."
He said "hybrid" courses are being developed that will give students the opportunity to study progress at Emiquon online and to do intense field work. Lincoln Land Community College and Spoon River College worked together with UIS on the development of a recent National Science Foundation grant to plan the curriculum at the field station. "Students will benefit by interacting with researchers from around the region and by being exposed to natural resource and conservation professionals," Lemke said.
A web-based database and announcement of activities occurring through the Emiquon Field Station is being continuously updated by UIS and can be tracked online by anyone interested in the restoration. It can be found at http://www.uis.edu/emiquon/index.html. Lemke said faculty and students from the UIS Biology Department have been monitoring water quality and microbial populations in and around Emiquon for more than three years and that many new projects are coming online now that restoration has begun.For more information about the field station, please contact Lemke at 217/206-7339 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.