Every June, the EKU Division of Natural Areas hosts a three-day field camp at the university’s Appalachian research station, Lilley Cornett Woods (LCW). In its 13th year, this camp brings together students and faculty, agency personnel, and school teachers from across the country, to interact through camping and hiking, formal lectures, informal campfire discussions and field trips to local mine sites, museums and natural areas.
The camp is the brainchild of Dr. Alice Jones, who served as the Director of the Environmental Research Institute, funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR grant. “The goal of the grant was to serve as a formalized institutional framework for developing and maintaining an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional approach to understanding eastern Kentucky’s ecosystems; connecting the university’s technical expertise and resources to the region’s needs; and linking this research to math and science education at the university and throughout the region,” said Dr. Melinda Wilder, Director of Natural Areas.
One of the lectures is the William H. Martin Appalachian Research Symposium. The symposium was established three years ago and named in honor of Dr. Martin, who began visiting the LCW in the late 1960s, set up 135 long-term research plots in the old growth forest in 1971, and led the university’s efforts to manage natural areas, resulting in the Division of Natural Areas.
“In 2021, we will collect the fifth decade of forest community data from these plot, over the three years of the Martin symposium, we have had 72 presenters from 19 institutions and 15 disciplines, including undergraduate, master’s, and PhD students, post-docs, technicians, faculty, administrators, and agency personnel, ranging from history to sociology, psychology, agriculture, biology, geosciences, forestry, and communication,” said Dr. Stephen Richter, associate director of natural areas.
The symposium is held in Lilley Cornett’s Research and Learning Center, which was constructed three years ago with funds from an NSF Field Stations and Marine Laboratories grant. At the same time, EKU funded a bunkhouse, which allows scientists and students to reside while conducting research in the region. Currently, the buildings provide research and dorm space for students in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, led by Dr. David Brown, associate professor in the biology department, and manager of EKU’s Taylor Fork Ecological Area. “The theme of the REU project is Disturbance Ecology in Central Appalachia, providing biological research opportunities for college students from around the country who have limited opportunities to gain scientific research experience, including for African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, and other students from groups underrepresented in the sciences. The core activity is a field-based research project that students conduct with faculty and graduate student mentors.”
For example, Taylor Brown, from Eastern Connecticut State University, came to EKU during the summer of 2018 and worked with Dr. Sherry Harrel to study the fish diversity in a recently restored stream in Daniel Boone National Forest. They presented their findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Students also get exposure to state and agency professionals. Jordan Gunter of Centre College, is working with John Hast, a biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, studying black bear occupancy of the Beaver Creek Wildlife Management Area.
“Lilley Cornett Woods consistently serves as a source of intellectual renewal and creativity, with new scientific discoveries in the old growth forest, several academic institutions, and some of the nation's top undergraduate students,” said Dr. Jason Marion, faculty regent, and associate professor in environmental health science. Dr. Marion also noted the 45 years of faithful service to the forest and those it touches by Robert Watts, the field station manager since 1974. “The celebration at the Campbell's Branch – Line Fork Community Center, not only celebrated the eclectic life of Mr. Watts, but also showcased EKU's commitment to the region while providing both EKU and NSF students a unique immersion into Appalachian culture including timeless mountain music and dance traditions that still excite both our young folks and our elders.”
“Lilley Cornett Woods provides a protected setting for basic ecological research of a natural ecosystem,” said Dr. Tom Martin, interim associate vice president for research. “With the help of the National Science Foundation and leadership and support from President Benson, Provost Jerry Pogatshnik, Dr. Wilder, and Dr. Richter, the facilities provide a base for conducting research from the plots set out by my father back in the 1970s on the inventory of the old growth, documenting nutrient flows and forest cycles, identifying, monitoring and eliminating evasive species, as well as the influence of forest management and climate change.”
As Dr. Bill Martin described to the audience of students and faculty in his talk, “This old growth forest and associated conditions serve as a control ecosystem against which other ecosystems and their components can be evaluated, measured, compared…natural ecosystems are not only more complicated that we think they are, they're more complicated than we can think they are, so there are plenty of research possibilities.”
Dr. Richter notes that additional funding for the camp was provided by Dr. W. Michael Dennis, President and Senior Scientist with Breedlove, Dennis and Associates, Inc., of Florida. “We are very appreciative of the generous donation from Dr. Dennis, that established a student travel award for the Martin Symposium. Over the past two years, this award has supported over 25 students from five universities.”