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Lake Superior NERR to offer more opportunities in 2012

Posted on Dec 27, 2011
The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve will ramp up research, outreach and education in 2012.
click to enlarge
Pokegama Bay, part of the St. Louis River estuary. (Photo by Sue OHalloran)

Pokegama Bay, part of the St. Louis River estuary. (Photo by Sue O'Halloran)

Community members, tourists, researchers and students will see the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve take an increasingly higher profile in 2012 as the organization begins renovating two buildings in Superior and brings more events, programs and opportunities to the public.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration established the Lake Superior NERR in October 2010 to serve as a site for research and education about the St. Louis River estuary. The reserve and community partners recently completed a 30-year lease for land on Barkers Island and the purchase of a former restaurant and a former gift shop there to serve as offices, labs and a visitor center. Funding to buy the buildings came from a NOAA grant.

Buildings to be renovated

Reserve manager Dr. Ralph Garono is anticipating a busy year in 2012 as architects design renovations for the buildings and work begins. The former Boathouse restaurant will be renovated first to house offices and labs. Work will then begin on the former Vista Landing shop, which will open as a visitor center and educational facility.

Garono said the visitor center will serve as a destination for community activities, classes from local schools, and tourists interested in learning about the estuary. His goal is to highlight community issues and offer an experience that's different from other visitor centers in the region.

Research in progress

A key part of the Lake Superior NERR is research, and reserve staff members already are working with two researchers from St. Paul and the Chicago area. Garono said he expects research activity to increase in 2012.

"Research is the hub of what we do," he said. "We'll conduct our own research and we'll have a coordinating role. We'll work as partners on other people's projects, and we'll try to shape research to give us products that fit better with our long-term goals."

Staff members will coordinate research to avoid overlapping projects, and help researchers make contact with others who are working on similar projects. Once the Barkers Island buildings are renovated, they will include laboratories and offices for researchers. Lab space also will be available at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, one of the reserve's community partners. Dormitories to house visiting researchers and students eventually will be added.

Opportunities for students

UW-Superior students will have opportunities to pursue undergraduate research at the reserve. Three interns currently are working on projects, and additional opportunities are expected to be available in 2012.

"UW-Superior's partnership with the Lake Superior NERR is another avenue for our faculty and students to focus on undergraduate research," said Dr. Faith Hensrud, the university's interim provost. "It not only provides opportunities for students to conduct water research but also offers possibilities in topics such as economics, education and other areas."

First student intern

Jessy Carlson, a biology major from Sheboygan, Wis., is the first UW-Superior student to work as a research intern at the reserve. She is studying how fluctuating water levels in the estuary affect beetles that feed on purple loosestrife, an invasive plant species.

Read more about Jessy Carlson's internship  

The internship is enabling her to gain research experience in an area that interests her - ecosystem disturbances and conservation strategies. It's also helping in her search for a graduate school.

"The graduate schools I've contacted are very curious about my research," she said.   

Research fuels education  

Information produced by researchers at the reserve will be important to the reserve's education efforts.

"We want to generate new knowledge to create an authentic scientific experience for teachers and students," Garono said.

Teaching schoolchildren and teachers

Another important part of the reserve's work will be to bring schoolchildren to the estuary to teach them about fresh water and related issues. Staff members also will develop classroom lessons about the estuary, and provide training for teachers to help them expand their scientific knowledge.

Education efforts also will extend to land-owners, public officials and other people who may have an impact on the estuary. The reserve's Coastal Training Program will help people understand how their decisions affect the estuary.

Helping public officials

For instance, public officials faced with filling a wetland and creating a replacement wetland would be able get help in analyzing project costs, the effect on taxes and other related issues.

"We're not telling people what to do, but helping them understand the results of their decisions," Garono said.

Public events and programs

Another role of the reserve is to reach out to the public through events and education programs, and Garono said he expects those efforts to be more visible in 2012.

The reserve will host a research conference at UW-Superior in March, and participate in local events as well as host its own. Long-term possibilities include programs that enable community volunteers to assist in research projects for times ranging from a day to a year.

The Lake Superior NERR is one of 28 estuaries in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and the second such reserve on the Great Lakes. The Lake Superior NERR covers nearly 16,700 acres of publicly owned marshes, uplands, rivers and Lake Superior shoreline that are part of the St. Louis River estuary in Douglas County.

Partners in the reserve along with UW-Superior are the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, city of Superior, Douglas County, and the University of Wisconsin Extension. Also involved in the project are the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant programs, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Wisconsin Coastal Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the U. S. Coast Guard.    

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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