New MSU research center focusing on natural resources

The Corey Marsh Ecological Research Center opened in November 2018 and will host long-term ecological research projects.

Corey Marsh landscape

In 2018, the Muck Soil Research Farm in Laingsburg, Michigan, which housed vegetable research for Michigan State University and closed in 2012, was being considered for sale.

Around the same time, Jen Owen, an associate professor in the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, was looking for housing for her research field crew and learned of the property while meeting with Doug Buhler, MSU AgBioResearch director, and other leadership.

Owen took the roughly 13-mile drive to Laingsburg to check out the buildings and began to explore the rest of the property. Her mind began to race. While the land proved challenging for farming, Owen saw it as an ideal spot for natural resources and ecological restoration research.

“The expansive wetlands and surrounding habitat contain an abundance of plant and animal life,” Owen said. “More than that, it contained a unique opportunity for the MSU community to further both our natural resources research, academic programs and outreach efforts. When I came back to campus, I asked for the whole property.”

Some may view the overgrown wetlands, stocked with invasive plant species, as something not worth the investment. Owen sees it differently. She said this location presents an opportunity to conduct long-term ecological wetland restoration research and share knowledge with many stakeholders.

In November 2018, MSU AgBioResearch leaders announced the opening of the Corey Marsh Ecological Research Center (CMERC).

“Some really important work was done at the Muck Soil Research Farm,” Buhler said. “But as the facilities were aging and flooding was becoming more prominent, which made farming there much more difficult, we saw an opportunity to save some money by continuing that work elsewhere.”

Owen, who serves as the center’s coordinator, seeks to position CMERC as an invaluable training opportunity for students to participate in research close to campus, as well as a conduit to community engagement.

As one of her research and outreach efforts, Owen has expanded her migratory bird research and bird banding to CMERC. Since 2010, bird banding has taken place at the Burke Lake Banding Station, which is just a few miles southwest of CMERC.

In 2013, bird banding was opened to the public to showcase natural resources research and the conservation of migratory birds. Since then the banding station has drawn visitors from all over the state and engaged people of all ages.

With the expansion of the bird banding program, Owen and her group created the Michigan State Bird Observatory as an umbrella organization. Since opening last fall, their team has captured and banded more than 1,000 birds of 81 species at the Corey Marsh Banding Station.

CMERC hosted a BioBlitz — where scientists and volunteers conduct intensive biological surveys of a given location — in May 2019, identifying almost 200 species of plants and animals. Other events in spring and summer 2019 included a tour stop for the MSU Science Festival, community engagement events and Alumni University.

A second, more intensive BioBlitz took place on Sept. 14, 2019. Fall bird banding and associated outreach programs occur from mid-August to mid-October.

CMERC is named after David Corey, a lawyer and Civil War veteran, who owned and farmed the land adjacent to the property from 1889 until MSU purchased it in 1911. During that time, the area became known colloquially as “Corey Marsh.”

This article was published in In the Field, a yearly magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. To view past issues of In the Field, visit www.canr.msu.edu/inthefield. For more information, email Eileen Gianiodis, editor, at gianiod1@msu.edu or call 517-355-1855.

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