It was a momentous occasion on Friday, April 25, as an excited crowd braved the strong winds and rain to celebrate the dedication and ribbon-cutting of the new Emiquon Field Station at the Emiquon Preserve located near Havana, Illinois, along the Illinois River.
The Illinois River is part of one of the greatest large-floodplain river ecosystems in the world. A century ago, most of the Illinois Rivers' floodplain was isolated from the river and converted to agricultural land, which significantly altered the natural ecological processes of seasonal flooding that sustained the ecosystem.
In 2007, however, the Nature Conservancy and UIS teamed up to transform 7,425 acres of land immediately adjacent to the Illinois River and owned by The Nature Conservancy back to its original state of a floodplain, which is one of the biggest transformations of its kind in the world.
UIS decided to establish the Emiquon Field Station to study, research, and document this incredible transformation and give students the opportunity to learn at the site. Dr. Michael Lemke, professor of biology at UIS, is the director of the field station.
During the field station dedication ceremony, Lemke explained how the restoration of the floodplain began and gave thanks to everyone involved who made the restoration and the field station possible.
"The physical function of the field station allows the vision that a lot of us have here; many of us have been busy studying this 7,000 acre-land restoration," he said. "A lot of planning and foresight has gone into this project. There is a chance for students here to learn biology, ecology, anthropology and many other disciplines."
The station features laboratories and an electronic classroom, Lemke said. The classroom lets instructors teach over the Web or bring guest speakers from distant locations to Emiquon, providing a connection to the rest of the world.
"Stories here at Emiquon aren't just for college-age students; we plan to share what is going on here with people from 'K to gray' through workshops, outreach and other ways," Lemke said. "I'm excited about sharing the stories here that have a global impact."
The Emiquon Project and the field station are right in line with UIS' goal to become one of the top five public, liberal arts universities in the country, said UIS Chancellor Richard Ringseisen.
"One of the phrases we like to use a lot is 'local excellence, global impact,' and if there's ever been an example of that, it certainly is this station," Ringeisen said. "This is an excellent and highly visible example of statewide and national recognition, so we're very excited today."
The field station is more than just a new building and observatory, Lemke said.
"It's also the people that work here. All of the people that have planned this and made it happen are part of the life of Emiquon," he said.
With the dedication of the new field station, UIS is becoming part of the long, rich history of the Emiquon floodplain, said UIS Provost Harry Berman.
"Dreams can come true," Berman said. "And with dreams come responsibility. At UIS, we now have a responsibility to take advantage of this wonderful facility and the splendid opportunities it offers to faculty and students. We will teach here, we will do research here, and in partnership with the Nature Conservatory, we will educate the public about biodiversity and conservation."