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Local wetland tackles big projects

A thirty acre wetland in Columbus could provide help in the fight against pollution in the Gulf of Mexico a thousand miles away. The Olentangy River Wetlands Park near the OSU campus is looking to find ways to prevent pollution in both local rivers and in the Mississippi River Drainage Basin.

Tucked in the urban landscape of Columbus sits an oasis of water, plants and wildlife. The Olentangy River Wetlands Park sits on thirty acres northeast of the OSU campus and has for the past twelve years been the home of wetlands research for the university. Though largely funded through private donations, the park will receive half of a million dollars from the state for the coming fiscal year.

Director Bill Mitsch says the park was developed to give researchers local resources. This new money will be used not only to continue local research, but will also be used to help build data-sharing connections with similar facilities at other local universities and with sites located along the Missouri, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Mitsch explains work at the site aids in preventing pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, "To prevent the hypoxia, or the dead zone, in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the reasons; we're causing a vast amount of pollution down in the Gulf of Mexico from the Midwest and we want to build wetlands, not unlike the ones we have designed right here at the Olentangy site, to intercept runoff, from farmlands especially, and prevent the pollution downstream."

Mitsch likens wetlands to nature's kidneys: wetlands filter runoff and remove pollutants from the water before it enters the river. He says the research done at the Olentangy site is being used not only at the university but in places as distant as Costa Rica and Iraq.

He says, "We've got a small initiative started in what would be the grand daddy of all restorations, if and when we ever get it done, is the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq, which is actually the Garden of Eden - did you know the garden of Eden was a wetland? And, it was pretty much destroyed by Saddam Hussein over the last 20 years and they're now trying to put it all back together."

But Mitsch says the wetlands are not only for the University, but for the community. The wetlands sit alongside the Olentangy River Greenway and are open to the public. Jack King and Anne Mischo are two locals who make the most of the wetlands.

King describes his fascination with the wetlands, "As you follow this through the seasons it's really very special, right in the middle of town, and watch the change in the birds, the sound, color, the plantings."

Mischo says, "And I think this is one of the best places to come visit in Columbus and no one knows about it. And most of us have ridden through here on the bike path, which I think it was a really good idea to have the bike path come through here, so some people know about the wetland."

Mitsch stresses that since the wetlands have been created using private donations, the park belongs to the people of Ohio. He says tours are available for interested parties who want to witness the research, and beauty, all around the site.