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Mason Student Conducts Environmental Research Study at The EDGE


It’s amazing to see who and what are attracted to our tranquil setting nestled among 10-acres of forest, wetland, and meadows.  We expect to see our Challenge Course bustling with teams engaged in experiential learning.  The Piedmont Trail attracts many regular walkers and joggers.  But, this year, we attracted a student conducting an original research project on wetlands.  George Mason University Senior, Chris Fleshren, spent five weeks on our site with his camera, GPS, sketch pad, magnifying glass, rain-boots, and DEET; researching wetland characteristics and defining their borders.  His preliminary write-up and photos of his findings follow:

Attention The EDGE and Nature Fans . . .
 
This summer I am researching the natural wetlands on the grounds of The EDGE Challenge Course in Prince William County.  My name is Chris Fleshren, and I’m a senior at George Mason University.  My major combines Global and Environmental Change with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
 
Wetland ecosystems are vital components of our environment; they are complex, and exceedingly vulnerable to human developmental impact.  Official definitions of wetlands vary somewhat, but most agree that the soil in “wetlands” must be saturated for long-enough during the growing season to support the growth of plant communities specifically adapted to soils with little or no oxygen.  In turn, these plants attract distinctive species of birds, amphibians and animals resulting in unique ecosystems.
 
The purpose of my research is to determine the borders of the wetlands, and prepare an assessment of their dominant characteristics.  I will be entering and analyzing my findings in the GIS software program called ArcMAP.  Maps I create of the wetland and its features will then be assembled with text and tables in a poster project for course credit.
 
Using a global positioning unit I have been recording the location and abundance of resident tree and plant species.  I have also tracked the creeks flowing into and out-of the wetland.  I still have some soil survey/sampling to perform; and I will be moving some camera traps around in an effort to record some of the wildlife accessing the area. 
 
During this project I have encountered many unique examples of this area’s wildlife.  In addition to the many turtles, frogs and snakes I discovered in the area, I found the bones of several mammals and a turkey. Other birds—still very much alive—reminded me that I was a guest in their environment. My wandering within about 4 feet of a roosting Ruffed Grouse caused it to explode into flight—nearly giving me a heart attack.  I almost died again when a hawk strafed and screamed at me from what could not have been more than 6 feet above my head.
 
This project has been a very memorable experience.  I won’t soon forget the many hours I spent and miles I walked in rubber hip-waders in this summer’s 90+ degree temperatures…  or the ticks and mosquitoes that ignored the DEET slathered all over me…  or the gallons of Gatorade I chugged.
 
See pictures for a taste of the EDGE Course’s local wildlife and a recent map of the wetland borders resulting from my study.   
 
 
Tread softly,
Chris8/22/12

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