A Unique Resource for Field Study

By Erin Hallissy

Lake La Salle, created in 1927 by damming Las Trampas Creek, is now a nearly pristine 14-acre wetland with an extensive stand of red willow — the largest remaining one in the Bay Area. In 2005, Saint Mary’s science faculty members began using the swamp for environmental education, and the College is now seeking to expand the use of the unique learning resource by building a boardwalk and platform to provide access and a location for study and monitoring equipment.

While small numbers of students have studied the land, the boardwalk — which would protect the habitat while providing access during the rainy season — would allow more students to do on-campus field work. Already, professors not just from the School of Science but also from Liberal & Civic Studies and other programs on campus have developed 17 classes which would do field study at the wetland.

“Modern science education focuses not only on classroom and laboratory learning, which are of course crucial, but also on acquiring and applying knowledge in the world,” says School of Science Dean Brian Jersky. “This project allows both our science and non-science majors to do just that. Our faculty and students continue to be leaders in high-quality science instruction, as demonstrated by their participation in this project.”
The College is currently seeking funding for the project, along with money to buy such equipment as atmospheric monitoring devices. Elizabeth Gallagher of the Development Department says the College would like it to be built in summer 2008.

“The beauty of it is that it’s on our campus, so students are engaging with land that is ours,” Gallagher says. “It also gives students who are not science majors the opportunity to do field experiments.”

For instance, liberal arts courses would use the wetland to study environmental issues. Science students, meanwhile, would be able to use the research station to collect field data and perform laboratory analysis. Gallagher said that equipment could be mounted on the platform to do atmospheric monitoring, which could compare conditions at the marsh to those at the College’s observatory in the hills above the campus.

The College estimates that each year, 30 science majors will do research at the wetland, while 50 will use it for lab work. Annually, about 150 non-science majors taking required science courses would use the wetland, along with some 70 Liberal & Civic Studies students.

For information on how to give to this project, please contact Elizabeth Gallagher at (925) 631-4223 or egallagh@stmarys-ca.edu.