October 18, 2011
Henry McGee, a junior biology major from Akron, consults with Laura Sirot, assistant professor of biology, during a field trip to Fern Valley.
WOOSTER, Ohio – Nestled in the gently rolling hills of northwestern Holmes County is a 56-acre tract of land known as Fern Valley where students and faculty from The College of Wooster have discovered a sanctuary for the study of science.
The land, donated to the College by Betty Crooks Wilkin, a 1964 Wooster graduate, and her husband, emeritus professor of French David Wilkin, has already served as the site for research in biology and geology, including Lyn Loveless’s Population and Community Ecology class, Greg Wiles’ Environmental Studies class, and Rick Lehtinen’s Vertebrate Biology class.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Laura Sirot, assistant professor of biology, and nine of her students in Biology 323 (Natural History of Invertebrates) made their fourth excursion this fall to Ripley Township, some 30 minutes from campus, for a closer look at the winding stream, dubbed “Wilkins Run” by members of Wooster’s faculty.
Despite overcast skies and light rain, the students were upbeat as they eagerly negotiated the slippery path, marked by patches of hearty ferns and trees with pink ribbons marking the way to the stream. Before they arrived, however, they had to traverse two rather large trees that that had fallen across the path, but after a 10-minute walk they reached their destination in this outdoor wonderland.
“It’s just wonderful,” said Sirot. “We are so thankful to the Wilkins to have a place like this to conduct field work.”
On this particular day, the students were instructed to photograph and classify some of the invertebrates they found in and around the stream. Using a variety of collection devices, including nets, and small plastic bins, the students set off in all directions searching for samples that they would later document when they consult the scientific literature on campus.
A.J. Ashcraft-Johnson, a junior biology major from Chicago, jumped in with both feet — literally — and found herself ankle deep in the stream. Meredith Eyre, a junior biology major from Westlake, Ohio, took a more cautious approach, reaching in from the edge. Ashcraft-Johnson pulled a rock from the stream that revealed tiny snails on the underside. “This kind of experience is invaluable,” said Johnson, an aspiring forest ranger. “It’s a lab in the wilderness,” added Eyre.
Elsewhere, Henry McGee, a junior biology major from Akron, collected fly larvae, beetle larvae, and snails in a transparent container about the size of a butter container and quickly made his way to Sirot for an “in-the-field” consultation. “We want the students to connect what they learn in class with what they experience in this natural habitat,” said Sirot.
After nearly two hours of field work, the group headed back to campus and put the experience into context. As the students made their way out of the woods, they seemed undaunted by the rain, and excited by the prospect of future visits to Fern Valley.
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