National Science Foundation Grant Enables Construction of Research Center at Lilley Cornett Woods

file photo from LCW

It will soon be easier to conduct sustained, high-level research at Eastern Kentucky University’s Lilley Cornett Woods.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded EKU a $300,000 grant for construction of a research center on the site of the 554-acre old-growth forest in Letcher County near the Kentucky-Virginia border.

The 2,200-square-foot facility, construction of which may begin as soon as Spring 2014, “will serve as a central research hub and allow EKU and visiting scientists and students to broaden the scope of research onsite and in the region. It will also allow the University to strengthen its research training, research-informed teaching, and outreach capabilities,” said Dr. Stephen Richter, who is project director and an associate professor of biological sciences as well as the associate director of the Division of Natural Areas at Eastern. “It will greatly enhance understanding of this old-growth ecosystem and surrounding altered ecosystems.”

Dr. Jerry Pogatshnik, associate vice president for research and dean of The Graduate School at EKU, said it is “extremely unusual” for the NSF to fund new construction projects. “It’s a highly competitive, peer-reviewed process, and it points out how this project is viewed nationally in terms of its merit. I’m very proud to have been part of the process,” one that involved stakeholders from various academic disciplines at EKU and from throughout the region.

Calling Lilley Cornett Woods (LCW) a “unique treasure” for EKU, Pogatshnik said the research center will help “quality faculty engaged in quality research make a lasting impact on the disciplines involved and the region we serve.”

Project co-directors are Dr. Melinda Wilder, director of the EKU Division of Natural Areas, which manages LCW; and Dr. Alice Jones and Dr. Walter Borowski, professors in the Department of Geography and Geology,

Wilder called the addition of a research center “a perfect example of regional stewardship. It will provide the venue for collaborating with not only researchers but community leaders and interested citizens in investigating human impacts on the environment – not only at LCW but within the entire Appalachian region. Currently, there are very few research facilities focusing on environmental research in the region.”

Less than 1 percent of all forested areas in the eastern U.S. is old growth, and the relatively high biodiversity in eastern Kentucky opens opportunities to link on-site and regional research to national and global research in such areas as climate change, carbon sequestration and cycling, and ecological system modeling, environmental adaptation in response to landscape change, and large-scale ecosystem monitoring and analysis.

“Lilley Cornett Woods is geographically situated to become a center for scientific research in surrounding southern Appalachian ecosystems,” Richter said.

In fact, data from previous and ongoing research at Lilley Cornett Woods dates back more than 40 years. Increasingly, the site has drawn researchers from outside the University. Over the past five years, investigators from six different universities (including the University of Kentucky and Frostburg State University in Maryland), two federal agencies and one private organization have conducted 19 research projects at LCW. The NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, a collaborative venture between EKU and UK, has attracted college students from several states to Lilley Cornett the past five summers.

 “The research center,” Wilder pointed out, “will facilitate long-term projects, projects that require data and samples to be processed immediately, rather than taken back to a lab elsewhere. It will also facilitate programs for student researchers by providing a teaching laboratory.”

“The key,” added Richter, “is that the center provides a base station for multidisciplinary regional research that might not otherwise be possible.”

The research facility also is expected to advance the University’s efforts in K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. “Use of effective teaching strategies such as field- and project-based experiences can potentially open pathways into interest in scientific careers,” Richter said.

Pogatshnik said the University is exploring funding alternatives to add additional housing facilities in close proximity to the research station.

For more information about Lilley Cornett Woods, visit www.naturalareas.eku.edu/lilley-cornett-woods-appalachian-ecological-research-station.

Published on September 24, 2013