Greater Worcester Land Trust Agreement Gives Researchers Easier Access to Patch Reservoir

June 15, 2021
By: Nancy Sheehan

A new agreement between Worcester State University and the Greater Worcester Land Trust means students and faculty will have easier access to Patch Reservoir for water-quality research and other educational endeavors.

The recently signed memorandum of understanding benefits Worcester State’s academic efforts while helping the land trust fulfill its mission of partnering with local academic institutions to find solutions to environmental issues.

The agreement involves a waterfront house on a small peninsula at 30 Breeze Drive, just a short distance from campus, that the land trust recently purchased. Under the agreement, Worcester State will be able to use space in the house for meetings and laboratory work, while the wooded property will offer a permanent home for University-owned canoes that allow students to go out on the reservoir to study water quality and other aspects of aquatic life.

“It’s a place where students and faculty can do research on an aquatic system with diverse inputs, both natural and anthropogenic, and that’s reachable within a five-minute walk from campus,” says Professor William Hansen, Ph.D., of the Earth, Environment, and Physics Department. “It gives students a great opportunity to get some experience working with local conservation organizations and a sense of the kind of field work they might do in their careers after they graduate. The issues we see in Patch, invasive species, nutrient loading, sedimentation and other impacts, are issues that affect virtually every waterbody in the region.”

“We’re excited about the opportunity to work with Worcester State on this project,” Colin Novick, executive director of the Greater Worcester Land Trust, says. “It’s a really great opportunity to dig in and have concerted academic environmental work going on in Worcester, which is a phenomenal thing.”

WSU already uses Patch Reservoir, which is within walking distance from the campus, as a location for student field work. Previously, a reservoir neighbor allowed students to launch the canoes from his property. The neighbor always graciously complied each time permission to launch was sought, but the new permanent location will simplify the process.

“The boats will be closer. We can go out whenever we want and devote a little more time and attention to this because it’s been a great activity for the students,” Hansen says. “We do this every semester in environmental science class, and at the end, the students always say, ‘Oh, this was a great class. I loved going out on Patch,’ because so many of them don’t otherwise get an opportunity to do things like that.”

Over the years, a lot of data for things such as water quality at Patch Reservoir has been collected by WSU students and faculty from March through June, then again in September and

October, but the research generally halted when the reservoir froze over. “We don’t have data for the winter months because we would need equipment like an auger,” Hansen says. “Now we’re going to be able to keep heavy equipment like that right next to the lake so we can get out onto the ice over the winter.”

Having lab space close to the water also will make it much easier to take core samples, a research method that involves sticking a tube deep into the reservoir bottom and extracting a sample showing layers of sediments exactly as they were laid down over time.

“You can look back at the history of the pond because the sediments will hold things like how much organic material flowed in and the pollen layers will tell you what kind of plants were growing at a given time period,” Hansen says. “Looking at pollen in ponds is actually how we’ve put together the natural history of New England since the Ice Age.”

The process of extracting core samples will become much easier once lab space is set up in the Breeze Drive building. “You have to carefully drain the water off the cores,” Hansen says. “We could wrap them and then bring them back to campus, but it gets really messy because you’re leaking muddy water all over the place. It’s just easier if you can do some of that activity in the field.”

In photo above, from left: Professor Bill Hansen, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Doug Kowalewski, Ph.D., both of the Earth, Environment, and Physics Department; with Assistant Professor Aleel Grennan, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Diana Sharpe, Ph.D., of the Biology Department.

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