A new partnership will allow Franklin College students to take part in a wetlands mitigation effort near the Johnson County campus. The agreement with Hants Lake Conservancy and the Franklin Department of Parks and Recreation will provide funding for student research.

July 30, 2014

News Release

Franklin, Ind. — A new partnership between Franklin College, Hants Lake Conservancy and the Franklin Department of Parks and Recreation will provide hands-on learning opportunities for the college's students in a wetlands environment, five minutes from campus. The project is the result of a wetlands mitigation effort.

In 1990, the U.S. adopted a no-net-loss of wetlands policy, stipulating that land developers must replace any diminished wetlands. The policy was an intervention, explained Franklin College assistant professor of biology Ben O'Neal.

“There was a time when wetlands were deemed troublesome because they held mosquito populations, weren't adequate construction sites and were difficult to travel over with horse and buggy during early settlement days.”

In recent decades, views about wetlands have changed dramatically, said O'Neal.

“Scientists learned that wetlands perform very important functions for the overall health of the environment. Wetlands remove toxins, store flood water, sequester carbon and provide habitat for wildlife, among other functions.”

Today when a wetland is diminished, land developers must arrange mitigation and document the process, according to federal guidelines. Most land developers seek professional consultants like O’Neal, who is a certified wetland delineator, to manage the process.

Hants Lake Conservancy is a Johnson County-area homeowners association that recently initiated a wetland mitigation project. The conservancy worked with the city of Franklin’s Department of Parks and Recreation to secure a suitable location to construct a new wetland. They settled on an area at the western edge of Blue Heron Park, northwest of the intersection of U.S. 31 and South St.

O'Neal spent time this spring developing a work plan that would meet federal guidelines and could be accomplished within the conservancy's budget. The agreement, approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, will bring research funding into the college for the next 10 years, supporting student stipends and faculty involvement.

“Students will engage in sampling soils, measuring hydrology and identifying vegetation. They also will be involved in documenting and reporting the data to the government. My hope is that the experience also teaches students about the challenge of monitoring and documenting federal regulatory obligations,” said O'Neal. He indicated some of the students' experiences will translate into scientific research that can be shared at professional and educational conferences, giving them opportunities to hone their communication skills.

“This is a neat example of partnership between the college, conservancy and city,” said O'Neal. “I'm very excited about students beginning work in the area in 2016. The conservancy members also are excited about giving young people this educational opportunity. Several conservancy members shared examples of their friends and relatives who have graduated from or are currently attending Franklin College. This project gives them an opportunity to be involved in the hands-on education of our students.”

Founded in 1834, Franklin College is a residential, liberal arts institution with a scenic, wooded campus located 20 minutes south of downtown Indianapolis, spanning 207 acres, including athletic fields and a 31-acre biology woodland. The college prepares students to think independently, to lead responsibly and to serve with integrity in their professions, their communities and the world. The college offers its approximately 1,000 students bachelor of arts degrees in 55 majors from 25 academic disciplines, 41 minors, 11 pre-professional programs and four cooperative programs. In 1842, the college began admitting women, becoming the first coeducational institution in Indiana and the seventh in the nation. Franklin College maintains a voluntary association with the American Baptist Churches USA. For more information, visit www.FranklinCollege.edu.

Source: Franklin College

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