FoSTERing Restoration Success at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Title: FoSTERing Restoration Success at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Investigators: Dr. Anne Jefferson (College of Arts and Sciences), Dr. Christie Bahlai (College of Arts and Sciences), and Dr. Bridget Mulvey (College of Education, Health, and Human Services)

This multi-disciplinary project embeds citizen science and cyber-infrastructure into an environmental restoration project that advances ecological and geological science. The Forest Soils and Trees Ecosystem Restoration (FoSTER) project is a collaborative initiative by Kent State University faculty and Cuyahoga Valley National Park scientists. In 2015, the National Park invited us to establish multi-decadal experimental studies at disturbed sites within the park to answer questions such as “How do we regrow forests on compacted, clay-rich soils?” and “How do hydrology and ecosystems change over time depending on the types of trees planted?”

In the past two years, the National Park has secured funding for site restoration and tree planting at five sites formerly used for mining and construction activities and “reclaimed” by compacting clay-rich subsoils. Today, these sites are characterized by fields of invasive grasses, in sharp contrast with the native hardwood forests in surrounding undisturbed areas. In September 2017, the National Park began restoration at the first site, by deep-ripping to improve soil drainage, and by mobilizing hundreds of volunteers in tree planting efforts following the ripping. Since 2015, our team has worked to characterize existing soils, plants, and hydrologic conditions at the sites and establish nearby forested reference plots. We have done this without access to funding beyond a graduate teaching assistant’s time and a small grant that she was awarded. External funders expect to see preliminary data to motivate specific scientific questions rather than funding the collection of such data or establishment data management tools necessary to ensure long-term success. Yet, collection of data before, during, and immediately following restoration is absolutely critical to answering both the applied and pure research questions that these sites have the potential to answer.

There will be a critical restoration period, using both Kent State students and Citizen Scientists volunteers, and to design the cyber- infrastructure to facilitate high quality data collection and preservation. Our goals are to inaugurate ecology and hydrology measurements at the Snowville site, establish meteorological and hydrological data collection at the Snowville site, design an interactive website where Kent State researchers, National Park employees, and Citizen Scientists can report data and observations, visualize data, and download data summaries, and lastly, develop citizen science trainings and volunteer data collection/entry procedures for accessibility and effectiveness.

Achieving these goals will put us in a highly competitive position to take advantage of diverse external funding opportunities targeting environmental restoration, ecological and geological sciences, Citizen Science, and cyber-infrastructure design. This project actualizes the 2012 Kent State-Cuyahoga Valley National Park Memorandum of Understanding that committed the park to “design projects in such a way that draws on faculty expertise and creates opportunity for student experiences and learning”, Kent State to “recognize Cuyahoga Valley National Park as a location for place-based and resource-based learning” and both entities to “collaborate to seek funding to support identified projects.”