KBS LTER opens self-guided walking tour

Network News Fall 2011, Vol. 24 No. 2
Site News

The Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program recently opened a self-guided walking tour designed for the general public and school groups. The walking tour offers a chance to explore some of the LTER research taking place at KBS via a three-quarter mile walk around the LTER’s Main Cropping System Experiment. Visitors can enjoy nature while learning how scientists at KBS conduct research in agricultural ecology.

The KBS LTER experiment was started in 1988 to learn how to make farming both good for the environment and profitable for farmers. By researching both the basic ecology of agricultural ecosystems and related socio-economic dynamics, the project informs management and policy related to sustainable landscapes. The walking tour is one way the site is sharing what we’ve learned over the last 20 years.

The walking tour project started through an undergraduate internship program at KBS. Sara Cole, an education major at Wayne State University, and her mentor Julie Doll, KBS LTER Education and Outreach Coordinator, teamed up to explain research results in a way that connected with visitors while they enjoyed being outside. A colorful trail guide leads visitors through 16 stations along the three-quarter mile trail that takes about an hour to complete. “We tried to capture some of the most important aspects of KBS LTER research through artwork and accessible language,” explains Cole.

Doll and Sara Syswerda, coordinator of the KBS K-12 Partnership, are now working with teachers from schools in the partnership to develop curriculum and activities that are linked to the walking tour and that meet state curriculum standards. This September, over 50 third grade students took the tour and completed an activity sheet highlighting some of the ecological topics covered at each station. As part of a biodiversity experiment on the trail, they counted insects on sticky traps from some of the LTER treatments, including early successional fields, conventionally grown corn, and a poplar tree monoculture. Through the experiment they learned the concepts of diversity, habitat, and data collection. The activities ran smoothly with the help of Leila Desotell, a Fellow from the KBS GK-12 program, and Marcia Angle, a Teacher in Residence at KBS.

The tour opened on July 1, 2011 and has been well received by the community. It has also attracted media attention, including two articles in the local paper and on Michigan public radio, and is proving to be a valuable resource for making research accessible to visitors when LTER staff or PIs are not available to provide guided tours. Future plans include creating a packet of discussion guides and peer-reviewed papers for university instructors and other professionals to use with groups that take the walking tour.