The University of Notre Dame and St. Joseph County Parks are launching a new partnership to build a cutting-edge environmental research and education facility at St. Patrick’s County Park. The new facility will be called the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND LEEF) at St. Patrick’s County Park.
Construction will begin this spring on a field-based environmental research facility that will allow Notre Dame scientists, graduate and undergraduate researchers, visiting scholars and other area academic institutions to study the interrelationships of land, water and wetland ecologies in the face of environmental change.
The project also complements the county parks department mission to provide environmental education for school- and college-aged students and adults. Notre Dame will provide an on-site program manager who will help local educators develop curricula for schools.
The facility will use cutting-edge sensor technology to monitor experiments in real-time, allowing students and community members to participate as virtual researchers through the Internet.
Under the terms of the agreement with the parks administration and parks board, Notre Dame will lease 28 acres of undeveloped park land on the east side of Laurel Road inside the gates of the park. Funding through Notre Dame will cover all building and maintenance costs as it constructs linked terrestrial and aquatic research pods along with a small facility to house technology. Notre Dame expects to invest $1 million in the initial phase of the project and the county is expected to incur no costs during construction or maintenance.
“The parks department staff is wholly committed to promoting understanding and stewardship of our unique natural and cultural heritage through innovative programs and services,” said Evie Kirkwood, county parks director.
“This project gives us an opportunity to expand that work with little or no additional impact on taxpayers or the Parks Department budget. To do so through a partnership with a leading university positions the St. Joseph County Parks to serve as a model for similar partnerships around the country,” added Kirkwood, who also serves as host of the program “Outdoor Elements” on WNIT Public Television.
ND LEEF at St. Patrick’s County Park is part of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), which conducts policy-oriented research designed to help decision-makers manage environmental challenges. One of ND-ECI’s nationally prominent projects includes working to prevent the migration of invasive Asian carp into the Great Lakes.
“St. Patrick’s County Park offers scientific opportunities that few sites have in our area — the presence of water, wetlands and dry land conditions in proximity, as they occur in nature,” explained David Lodge, director of the ND-ECI and biology professor. “This facility will provide us with a missing research link — a site where scientists can study the interactions between land, water and wetlands as well as indigenous life forms in a natural setting.”
“We are particularly excited about the opportunity to partner with the St. Joseph County Parks Department and the prospect of being involved in research and education that will engage the community,” added Jennifer Tank, director of ND LEEF.
Notre Dame’s environmental researchers conduct numerous projects including the study of agricultural-related nitrogen runoff, the challenge of climate change on the biota in land and water, the impact of invasive species and the degradation of water quality. The ND LEEF environmental research facility will allow scientists to simulate what future environmental challenges might look like and how to plan for those impacts.
As a multidisciplinary facility, ND LEEF also will engage members of Notre Dame’s Colleges of Science and Engineering and the School of Architecture. Michael Lemmon, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, will deploy environmental sensors that transmit research data to the Internet. In addition, Aimee Buccellato, assistant professor of architecture, has led the site planning process for the facility.
Contacts: David Lodge, ND-ECI director, 574-807-9322, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jennifer Tank, ND LEEF director, 574-631-6552, email@example.com; Evie Kirkwood, St. Joseph County parks director, 574-277-4828, firstname.lastname@example.org