SSR 2012 Updates

2012 Watershed Trip:

Gravel Pit Challenges Environmental Stereotypes

Posted 9/22/12

At first glance, the gravel pit SSR students visited on September 20 didn't look ecologically friendly. The landscape was a uniform tan, devoid of plant or animal life. Massive heaps of stone towered over the visitors, and it was hard to hear above the roaring of the giant Caterpillar trucks, sucking diesel fuel.

But in the eyes of Jarred Grinstead, who owns American Aggregates, Inc., in Niles, Michigan, this mined land passed down from his grandfather, will someday be a beautiful place to live. Grinstead envisions a housing development with a built-in water feature where the wash pond currently is. Or maybe a golf course will cover the mine when the gravel is tapped out.

American Aggregates, Inc., located in Niles, Michigan, sells 300,000 to 500,000 tons of stone per year. That’s the equivalent of five aircraft carriers, crammed full. About 50 to 100 semi loads head out each day.

Grinstead emphasized the ubiquity of his product. Every new home has an average of 500 tons of stone in it, he said, from the fine sand in asphalt shingles to the cement in the foundations and the gravel surrounding the septic system. Gravel is used to make roads and bridges; it forms the bedding of pipes and the surface of playgrounds. It lines the sand traps of golf courses; it is needed to create funeral vaults and new landfill cells. Grinstead also pointed out that the alternative to having a local gravel pit is shipping stone long distance at higher costs to customers and the environment.

Jonathan Mark, an SSR student from Goshen, Ind., asked how the gravel company related to the river. Grinstead said that all the water used in washing stone came from the pit the gravel company had dug on their property, and the water was constantly recycled.
SSR visitors were impressed with Grinstead’s care in monitoring his gravel more frequently than regulations required and his refusal to dispose of used tires from earthmoving equipment by burying them, even though it costs several hundred dollars to take a tire that size to the landfill. Ω
 - JHS

2012 Watershed Trip:

SSR Students Meet Sustainable Counterparts at IUSB

Posted 9/22/12

When Merry Lea's Sustainability Semester in Residence (SSR) students landed on the  Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) campus September 19, they received a warm welcome and help heaving their canoes ashore. Students from the campus Sustainability Club and faculty from the Center for a Sustainable Future at IUSB met the canoers, served supper and provided a tour of a raised bed garden they created with salvaged lumber..

"We have so many schools in this area and we rarely do anything together," observed Krista Bailey, assistant director of the Center for a Sustainable Future. She expressed interest in building connections between the two schools, and in planning a visit to Merry Lea later in the year.

Members of the local press showed up to film and photograph the SSR students' arrival and the water quality tests they performed before leaving the riverbank. The SSR trip was featured on the front page of the South Bend Tribune and on WNDU.

Goshen College Launches Sustainability Semester at Merry Lea

Posted 9/10/12

“Launch” is an apt word for the beginning of the Sustainability Semester in Residence (SSR), a new undergraduate program at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, Wolf Lake, Ind. Students begin the semester with a weeklong exploration of the Elkhart River Watershed, traveling by canoe when possible.

Seven students, most of whom are environmental science majors, will launch their canoes from Mallard Roost Wetland Conservation Area, east of Ligonier, Ind., on Tuesday, September 18. They’ll paddle northwest, tracing the path of the Elkhart River as it winds its way through Ligonier, Goshen and Elkhart and joins the St. Joe River. They’ll then follow the St. Joe through South Bend, Niles and Berrien Springs, ending in Benton Harbor where the St. Joe meets Lake Michigan.

Along the way, students will test the water quality of the rivers. They’ll also visit a wide variety of residents and institutions along their path. Among the stops are a a gravel quarry, a solar company, and a church that developed an interest in water quality because they baptize in the Elkhart River. They’ll also speak with a chef, see a hydropower installation in South Bend and meet a county commissioner.

The watershed trip offers opportunities for collaboration with faculty and students from other universities. In South Bend, the SSR students will spend an evening with students and faculty from the Center for a Sustainable Future, Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). In Berrien Springs, they will share a cookout with Andrews University students and faculty and tour a dairy farm and wastewater treatment plant on campus.

The SSR canoe trip and the courses that follow it are part of a pedagogy called problem-based learning. This form of learning places more responsibility on students to figure out what they need to know and how they can learn it. The faculty are guides and coaches rather than “sages on stage,” and the entire watershed is the laboratory.

For example, in the SSR’s Landscape Limnology course, instructor Lisa Zinn, Wolf Lake, Ind., has posed the question, “How does Merry Lea affect the water quality of the headwaters of the Elkhart River, and what could Merry Lea do to better protect these headwaters?” Students will spend the bulk of the course seeking answers.

On an orientation hike on Merry Lea’s property, Dr. Dave Ostergren, who teaches an environmental policy course in the SSR, challenged the students to consider what policies had shaped the landscape they hiked through and what bodies made those policies.

The SSR culminates in an environmental problem-solving project that challenges students to address a local environmental problem.

“We began planning for the SSR in 1999,” Luke Gascho, Merry Lea’s executive director, told the SSR students on their first day at Merry Lea. That year, when the current SSR students were in second or third grade, Merry Lea staff resolved to develop innovative undergraduate programs on site that would immerse students in the landscapes they are studying. The long process included construction of Rieth Village, a platinum-rated LEED® facility where the students now live. - JHS