Ohio Wesleyan Students Dig Into OWU History to Understand Status of Underground Waterway
By Cole Hatcher
When Katsutoshi “Toshi” Mizuta says he and his Ohio Wesleyan University students are digging for clues, he means it literally.
Using a handheld auger, Mizuta, Ph.D., and students in his two Environment & Sustainability 111 courses recently excavated and examined soil from an OWU hillside south of the Delaware Run. Mizuta, who joined Ohio Wesleyan in August, is an expert in soil health, climate-smart agriculture, and ecosystem services.
Water, Water Anywhere?
Mizuta and his students are working to solve the mystery of what happened to the historic Sulphur Spring that runs through the northeast section of campus. The spring, one of the most iconic features of OWU’s 200-acre campus, no longer fills the stone basin created to capture it in the 1830s. During that era, a spa hotel was built on what is now campus land to showcase the spring and seduce health-conscious consumers into visiting the site.
When the hotel closed, local residents led by the Rev. Adam Poe purchased the land to support the founding of Ohio Wesleyan in 1942. During OWU’s first 100 years, the Sulphur Spring maintained a prominent role in campus life – the site of both social gatherings and quiet study.
For several years, however, the spring basin has been inexplicably dry.
The Mystery of the Slippery Stream
While walking across campus over the past few years, John Krygier, professor of Environment & Sustainability, noticed an unusually wet section of hillside behind Merrick Hall. The grass was a little different in color, too, and lawncare equipment seemed to slip and slide while working in the area, recalls Krygier, Ph.D.
As he pondered the site, Krygier thought about the history of the hillside, formed as part of a canyon during the last glacial period when huge amounts of meltwater flowed through the area. “After that, the Run shrank, and much of what is now downtown Delaware was wetlands.”
“Dig 10 to 15 feet down,” he says, “and you’ll find 400-million-year-old Ohio shale, where it meets even older limestone known as ‘blue limestone.’ The shale had lots of organic material in it, leading to chemical reactions that produce the distinctive smell.”
Despite his knowledge of the area, Krygier wondered what else lay buried underneath the OWU hillside. So, when Mizuta was looking for a spot to study soil with his students, Krygier suggested the campus site.
A Scent-Sational Discovery
As Mizuta and his students stand on the hillside during their recent class, he shows them a spot where he previously extracted a core of earth. Water is clearly visible in the deep hole, and he encourages the students to smell the murky liquid.
Natalie Baker ’25 of Fredericktown, Ohio, and Othman Taha ’26 of Dublin, Ohio, take turns leaning down. “I can smell it,” Baker says, noting no need to press her nose any closer to the ground. “It wafts.”
Taha also notices the strong smell that the class ultimately compares to rotten eggs.
“Do you know what smells like rotten eggs?” Mizuta asks.
The answer, he says, is sulfur. And Ohio Wesleyan’s Sulphur Spring is the only such spring recorded in the vicinity. (Other springs identified in the area are iron springs.) So, could this be OWU’s iconic subterranean waterway?
Of Lawn and Limestone
“Why do you think we have water here? Any hypotheses?” Mizuta asks his students. Possibilities include runoff from the buildings that now exist in the area or, perhaps, a waterline leak. To gather more information, Mizuta asked Del-Co Water Company, with the help of water quality intern Graham Steed ’23, to test the water for pH and sulfur levels. The results showed the groundwater has a weaker alkaline level but a sulfur level nearly three times higher than the Delaware Run.
As part of the day’s lesson, Mizuta wants his students to use the auger to extract a fresh core of earth to study the soil quality at different depths. Taha muscles the metal rod into the dirt and extracts sample after sample, watching the soil change in color and density.
After a while, Caroline Schlorb ’25 takes over the digging and discovers groundwater at about 2 feet down. The students also notice the distinctive rotten egg smell is getting stronger.
Then, Mizuta asks the students to ponder his previous findings. The upper soil has a lower pH, but the lower soil has a significantly higher pH level. How is this possible?
With his help, the students puzzle it out: The upper soil is affected by the growing lawn, while the lower soil is impacted by the limestone deposits found throughout the area. Limestone is an alkaline and raises the pH level in the soil. The shale adds the distinctive sulfur smell.
A Spring Runs Through It
Examining all of these variables, Mizuta concludes, “It is the Sulphur Spring. That’s what we’re thinking.”
But where exactly is the relocated spring? Determining a precise location, he says, will require studying the topography of the area, especially how water moves through the terrain.
Krygier adds it might even be possible to restore water flow to the spring’s ornamental basin, but the difficulty of that endeavor is still to be determined. Factors include why the spring moved – was it natural migration? The result of construction? A combination of factors? Rerouting the water flow also depends on whether the mouth of the spring is higher or lower than the basin, he says, and, consequently, how gravity affects the water flow.
And these questions, both professors agree, are mysteries for another day and another investigation.
Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Environment & Sustainability, which offers majors in Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, and Geography, at owu.edu/environment.
In its early years, Ohio Wesleyan’s Sulphur Spring was the site of social gatherings and quiet study. (Photo courtesy of the OWU Archives)
Professor Toshi Mizuta points down to the core he dug and over to the Delaware Run as he explains the groundwater he discovered in the hillside behind Merrick Hall.
Othman Taha ’26 uses a handheld auger to dig soil as he and his classmates learn how to interpret the makeup of the local land.
Emma Biggs ’26 explores the properties of soil, which include color and density.
Professor John Krygier displays shale and explains the makeup of land in area during a session of colleague Toshi Mizuta’s Environment and Sustainability 111 class.
Mostly hidden and invisible, Delaware Run weaves itself through the fabric of the city and is often overlooked. The Watershed Walk on Sept. 22, 2019, will shed light on this important natural resource.
2nd Annual Delaware Run Watershed Walk: September 22, 2019
1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.: Choices for level of involvement: a “short walk” (45 minutes), or a longer walk (90+ minutes), with 3-4 entry or exit points. Led by Local naturalists, historians, MAD Scientist Associates and others.
3:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m.: creation of a “Watershed mural”, Badminton and Bocce Ball, upcycle art creation, and other “earth art and sports” (non-fossil fuel fun!)
Mostly hidden and invisible, Delaware Run weaves itself through the fabric of the city and is often overlooked. The Watershed Walk on Sept. 22, 2019 will shed light on this important natural resource.
Participants can choose to do a deep exploration of the run or shorter jaunts along its course.
Local scientists and experts will lead our walks and will explore the history, ecology and geologic features of the stream scavenger hunt style. After the walks, we will meet at the Boardman Arts Park to enjoy refreshments, music and educational programming about the nature nearby.
Two nest boxes and a feeder stand were recently installed in the backyard of the new Tree House SLU (small living unit) on Rowland Ave., on campus.
Two nest boxes and a feeder stand were recently installed in the backyard of the new Tree House SLU (small living unit) on Rowland Ave., on campus. Alumni Dick Tuttle and student Eva Blockstein installed the boxes and are maintaining them. The nest boxes were taken from the old Tree House SLU where they raised Carolina Chickadees and House Wrens during their stay there. The feeder stand’s top is many decades old but it has a new layer of paint.
Nest box 2 is facing the sidewalk on Rowland Ave. so students can see it as they walk to-and-from classes. Number-2’s label should cause the curious to ask, “So, where is number 1?”
Eva filled a feeder with sunflower seed and it now hangs from the feeder stand. The second feeder will be seen by veteran birds and will speed up the use of the new offerings.
An Ohio Wesleyan alumna, professors, and students are teaming up and using high-tech geography in Costa Rica to help preserve a rich and wonderful ecosystem.
An Ohio Wesleyan alumna, professors, and students are teaming up and using high-tech geography in Costa Rica to help preserve a rich and wonderful ecosystem.
Looking out at the lush, vivid greenery around her simple home in Costa Rica, Amy Work ’04 can scarcely believe her good fortune. The sky is a gorgeous blue, a crystal-clear ocean is nearby, colorful tropical birds swoop overhead, and the sunshine is endless.
It’s a far cry from her growing-up years in Westerville and her college years at Ohio Wesleyan University, where weather tended more toward overcast skies and freezing Midwest winters.
“If you would have told me when I was in college that I’d be living in the tropics and working I would have said you’re joking, there is no way,” Work says. “Now I know that anything’s possible.”
A lofty sentiment, to be sure. But one she believes in so firmly that she’s trying to pass it along to other OWU students by inviting them to visit—and learn—in her little piece of paradise.
Work’s life on the eastern coast of Costa Rica centers on something she was introduced to at Ohio Wesleyan: GIS—geographic information system—technology. In its simplest form, it’s a way to display several sets of data on a single map so users can see and analyze the relationships between each. Accessed through computer software, the technology is used in fields ranging from archaeology to mosquito control to politics—anything that can use location as a factor.
GIS technology was growing in popularity in 2000 when Work was an OWU freshman taking a mapping course taught by geology and geography professor John Krygier.
“That class talked about how maps have helped us understand the world over time, and at the end it talked about GIS,” Work says. A follow-up class taught her the nitty-gritty of GIS and convinced her of its power. By the time she graduated in 2004 with a triple major in geography, urban studies, and environmental studies, she knew she wanted to pursue a career centered on GIS.
Work was sharp, focused, and fully engaged in learning about GIS, Krygier says, especially in upper-level courses where students used the technology to help map potential pathways for future Delaware bike paths. Eventually, Delaware created new paths based on the students’ work.
“She’s one of those people who has a vision and can see the parts needed to make it happen,” Krygier says. “What Amy got in that class was that there’s a tool that can make big, good things happen.”
After graduating from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in geography in 2006, Work became an education and GIS coordinator at the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology, or IAGT, in Auburn, New York. Through her work there she met Anita and Roger Palmer, founders of GISetc, a for-profit company that helps educators learn to use GIS in the classroom.
Beginning in 2009, the Palmers began traveling to the Costa Rican coastal village of Bahia Ballena to introduce GIS to community leaders, in the hopes the technology would help the village transition from a farming-and-fishing economy to a tourism economy. When it became obvious the couple’s yearly visits weren’t enough for the project to prosper, they asked Work to live and work there full-time.
That’s what she’s done since August 2012. She’s funded by Geoporter, a nonprofit organization set up by Work, the Palmers, and two Bahia Ballena community members. It’s designed to send educators around the world to do exactly what Work is doing in Costa Rica: solve local issues with GIS. This is Geoporter’s first project.
A hallmark of Geoporter is helping communities help themselves, Work explains. “The community members are the ones who are doing it,” she says. “The community has the goals and the objectives, and the focus is on getting community members to use the technology themselves.”
Bahia Ballena leaders decided to tackle trash in the streets with the help of GIS. For a decade, trash had been picked up curbside at homes, but in public places, residents tended to toss it on the ground, Work says. As a result, trash ended up in local streams and then in the ocean, reducing the area’s appeal for tourists.
Work suggested mapping where trash was coming from as a first step. In 2013, she and community members collected trash at specific intervals on the road, counted the kinds of trash found there, and mapped the results using GIS. They found a high concentration of candy wrappers outside grocery stores near schools, for example, from students buying candy on their way home. Soccer fields—popular community gathering spots—had food wrappers and bottles.
“Life in Costa Rica revolves around family, church, and soccer, so on Sundays the entire town shows up to watch the games,” Work says. “And there were no trash cans near the soccer fields.”
An analysis of the mapped trash produced action within the year: Trash cans with sections for recyclables and sections for non-recyclables were added where they would reduce the most trash, and an education program encouraged residents to use the cans.
Since then, trash in streams has diminished and more is being recycled—exactly what Geoporter was set up to accomplish.
To spread the word about the success and encourage others to embrace the technology, Work turned to her alma mater. She contacted Krygier, who had first taught her GIS, and his new colleague, Nathanael Amador, and asked: Would Ohio Wesleyan students be interested in working with Geoporter?
The idea jelled when Work returned to the states in 2014 to be inducted into the Ohio Wesleyan Athletic Hall of Fame for her starring role on the Battling Bishops’ national title-winning women’s soccer teams of 2001 and 2002. She talked up her GIS project with Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones and by 2015, Amador, with Krygier’s help, was offering a travel-learning course to Costa Rica. Such courses are a core element of The OWU Connection, helping students connect classroom learning with real-world practice in global settings.
“I still feel such a connection to the students at Ohio Wesleyan,” Work says. “I wanted them to see what I’m doing with my degree and to instill in students that you can apply your knowledge to anything and, if you have a passion, follow it.”
The proposal had clicked with Amador, an assistant professor of geology and geography who’d begun working at Ohio Wesleyan in 2014. He was teaching Environmental Alterations, a required class for environmental studies majors, and added the Costa Rica portion as an option for additional class credit.
“What Amy does embodies the point of the course, which is how humans impact the environment,” Amador says. “And it ties together the whole idea of being at Ohio Wesleyan, which is that graduation isn’t the end of your involvement with the University community.”
By December 2015, five students, along with Amador and Krygier, were bumping along the mostly unpaved roads of Costa Rica. Each had completed an environmental project centered on the country before their trip, and their 11-day visit expanded on those projects.
Madeleine Coalmer ’18 examined the effects of ecotourism, global warming, and climate change on water supplies in Costa Rica. She wanted to find out what could be done in the future to reduce yearly water shortages during the dry season. She soon realized that even her use of water at home in Youngstown, Ohio, could ultimately affect the water supply in Central America.
“When my mom picked me up from the airport after the trip, the first thing I told her was I’m going to be more cautious of how much water I’m using,” she says.
Coalmer also learned how much opportunity her chosen major, geography, can provide.
“Amy’s work shows that you can be successful and flourish with a geography major, and for her to have taken the same classes in the major that I’m taking meant even more,” Coalmer says. “It showed me that I could reach out to others and have connections all over the world.”
Chris Pessell ’18 of Cincinnati had studied the impact of African palm-oil plantations on the soil, water, animals, and plants of Costa Rica. African palms were brought to the country after Costa Rica’s banana-growing industry shut down. While they’ve helped the economy, native mangrove forests have been destroyed to make way for the plantations.
Pessell’s view of the industry changed when he visited a plantation on the trip. He realized he’d inflated its harm to the environment.
“I assumed it was like a tree farm, but there was a carpet of plants under the trees and a ton of different bugs,” he says. As long as the plantations aren’t expanding, he says, it doesn’t appear they’ll do additional damage to the environment.
Pessell particularly enjoyed another trip project: testing water in the Bahia Ballena area to ensure clean drinking water is available. After the trip, he helped map the data and hopes to add more as additional testing is done periodically.
“Development has encroached on the amount of water available,” Work says. “We’re mapping the water quality and the stream flow to understand what’s happening and to ensure that our dirty water is taken care of.”
The work cemented Pessell’s plan to pursue a career in water-quality testing when he graduates with his geography major.
In addition to the palm-oil plantation, students and professors visited two national parks, a bat sanctuary and a pineapple plantation; kayaked through mangrove forests; and took a whale-watching tour (but, unfortunately, saw no whales.)
Interestingly, neither Work nor Amador had opportunities similar to the Costa Rica trip while they were students.
Work’s plans to travel abroad were dashed by 9/11. Instead of traveling, she applied her GIS knowledge on local projects as a student, such as the bike-trail project.
For Amador, plenty of opportunities for study and travel existed at The Ohio State University where he obtained his undergraduate degree, but he had no money to participate.
“I think part of my passion for this is living through the students, letting them take advantage of these opportunities,” he says. “I was interested in getting students to really understand what it means to study this content outside of the classroom and to understand that people are employed doing what you’re learning in this class.”
The January trip was the second time an Ohio Wesleyan student had visited Work. The first was a year ago, when graduate Christian Gehrke ’15 took a University drone to Bahia Ballena to capture a birds-eye view of the community. The new imagery updated some from 2011 and has a higher resolution. Work will use it to see changes in the environment over time.
“We don’t have the resources to acquire a drone,” she says. “But the student had the technology to help us advance what we’re doing here.”
Krygier hopes the collaboration with Work spurs similar collaborations with OWU alumni.
“It’s a good model,” he says. “Our alumni are spread out all over the world, and I’m hoping other travel-learning courses will take advantage of that.”
In Costa Rica, the link between alumni and OWU continues. Amador visited this summer to take more water samples, and another OWU student took additional aerial photos with a drone.
Work appreciates the extra hands, the equipment and the enthusiasm that students and professors bring to the Geoporter project, but she also sees the collaboration as a way she’s giving back to the University.
“I want to be able to share with students what the University taught me,” she says. “It provided me with the foundation to know that you can learn and do whatever you want to. It shaped me into what I am today.”
Kathy Lynn Gray is a freelance writer from Columbus, OH.
Earlier this year a posting about Bird, Bee & Bat Habitat on OWU’s Campus detailed the construction and placement of, among other things, a series of bird houses and feeders on OWU’s campus. Dick Tuttle has documented the bird’s use of the houses and feeders over the summer and provides the following report.
Earlier this year a posting about Bird, Bee & Bat Habitat on OWU’s Campus detailed the construction and placement of, among other things, a series of bird houses and feeders on OWU’s campus by Jayne Ackerman (OWU ’15, email@example.com), Blake Fajack (OWU OWU ’16, firstname.lastname@example.org) & Dick Tuttle (OWU ’73, email@example.com).
Dick has documented the bird’s use of the houses and feeders over the summer and provides the following report.
All four nestboxes with 1-1/8 inch entrances produced a total of 23 native birds. The small entrance holes are designed to exclude non-native House Sparrows. Here is a detailed report on those boxes. Boxes #1 and #2 are in the back yard of the Tree House. Box #1 raised six House Wrens with the box being active with eggs and young from May 16 – June 19. Box #2 fledged five House Wrens and was active between July 6 and August 7.
Box #3 stands at the corner of the Student Observatory directly north of the Tree House and across a parking lot. House Wrens caused two chickadee nest attempts to fail before the wrens raised six young after laying their first egg on June 16 and fledging their last nestling on July 19.
Box #4 is located among evergreen trees between the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center and the Mowry Alumni Center. A first nest attempt by Carolina Chickadees failed after four eggs were laid but the second nest was successful between May 2 and June 6 to fledge six chickadees. I have not removed the old nest from this box.
A Wood Duck box located between Delaware Run (creek) and Henry Street remained inactive all season. Perhaps, lights from the stadium are a problem. Relocating the large nest box should be considered once Delaware City completes their plans for the stream where it runs through campus. Wood Duck boxes can also raise Eastern Screech Owls.
On April 13, 2015, students Jayne Ackerman and Blake Fajack and I installed four Carolina Wren boxes on two Student Living Units after three or so other students helped with construction and painting. I did not check these boxes until the end of the season and I only looked at them from the ground. The two boxes at the Inter-Faith House showed no signs of use while one of two boxes at the Citizens of the World House had nesting material sticking above the entrance slot. The box had been active and is located near the ceiling of the carport. My advice is to leave the nest material in the box so Carolina Wrens can roost in it this winter. If the nest contains any moss, it belongs to a Carolina Wren. A House Sparrow’s nest will not have moss, but will have grass with some trash items, etc.
I serviced the bird feeder station in front of the Chappelear Drama Center all summer while I only filled the thistle feeders at the station at the Science Center. I reactivated the Science Center feeders on Sunday, August 23 to greet returning students.
The large hopper feeder at the Science Center is one of two that I built for OWU. The second one resides in my basement waiting for an idea for its location. I would like to install it where students live and near a main artery where it could be watched as students walk from their campus “homes” to and from their classes.
The ears of corn on the hopper feeder are for Blue Jays. Blue Jays are common at my home, but so far, none of the ears of corn on campus have been pecked at. Even the resident crows have avoided the corn. Maybe, once the second hopper is installed, I believe Blue Jays will become more visible on campus.
The city of Delaware will use a $152,900 state grant to build three access sites to the Olentangy River this year. Two will be in Mingo Park and one on Cherry Street, south of the city-owned recycling buildings.
DELAWARE, Ohio — Since Delaware’s early settlement more than 200 years ago, boats and canoes have been launched from its Olentangy River banks.
With the help of a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there will now be a safer, easier method of entry than climbing over rocks and along crude paths.
The city will use a $152,900 state grant to build three access sites this year. Two will be in Mingo Park and one on Cherry Street, south of the city-owned recycling buildings.
The Mingo Park access will be on the park’s north and south sides. The north site will include timber stairs and handrails leading to a boat-removal area.
The south site will have a paved parking area and a 55-foot paved path to a launch area.
The Cherry Street site will have a gravel parking lot and a 200-foot gravel trail to the river. That site is intended for both launching and boat removal.
Traffic to the sites will be helped by Preservation Parks of Delaware County, which plans to build an entry point at River Run Preserve, north of the city limits near Delaware Dam. Together, these projects will provide the public access to 7.5 miles of water trail.
“Opportunities for our recreational boating community will greatly increase because of these launch sites along the Olentangy River,” Delaware City Manager Tom Homan said in a news release. “ Water trails join communities, provide scenic venues for recreation, increase health and well-being and create educational opportunities.”
Delaware spokesman Lee Yoakum said “the river is not used as much as it could be because access is poor.”
The new facilities, to open around April 2016, should help the river become as important as the city’s network of road and bike paths, Yoakum said.
“It’s truly the heart of the city. It’s where Delaware began.”
The first annual Watershed Festival was held at Mingo Park (in Delaware, Ohio) on June 21, 2014.
The first annual Watershed Festival was held at Mingo Park (in Delaware, Ohio) on June 21, 2014.
Festival “booths will be on sediment control, rain garden demonstrations, we’ll have volunteers taking groups down to the Olentangy River, discussing water quality aspects of the Olentangy and the benefits it provides the City of Delaware.”
“Our goals are to preserve green space in our rapidly developing county and to provide environmental education to its residents. Because parks add value to our quality of life, Preservation Parks is committed to continuing to acquire and develop additional areas which can enrich the lives and provide clean, safe places for recreation and relaxation for all members of our community.” (source)
Delaware County, Ohio has many ecologically important wetlands, some with ongoing OWU research projects.
Delaware County, Ohio has many ecologically important wetlands, some with ongoing OWU research projects. Local wetlands include those behind Glenwood Commons, the Kensington Park Rain Gardens, the Bio-Swale at Stratford Woods and the Wetland Retention Pond at Delaware Community Center YMCA.