The Colgate Scene
November 2000
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Science and peace and quiet
by John D. Hubbard

Professor of Biology Randy Fuller briefs lab students on the equipment they will be using to test water in Seymour Pond
The Bewkes Center, unlike most Colgate laboratories, is not down a flight of stairs but at the crest of a hill. And science students don't follow a hallway to Seymour Pond. They take a dirt road that winds gently through a variety of tall, straight trees to conduct their research.

     Biology, geology and geography students continue to study the 170-acre site that overlooks Lebanon Reservoir. The old farm was the home of Eugene Bewkes '19 and was given to the university by Garry Bewkes '48 and his family nearly 10 years ago.

     For all Bewkes has been sampled, monitored and analyzed, the center remains pristine, with a sense of the deep woods even as it doubles as a summer recreation spot for the Colgate community.

     "Bewkes is an excellent place to bring students," says Randy Fuller, chair of the biology department. "Its proximity to campus makes it that much more valuable. It is just a ten-minute drive to a place where we can expose students to so many different terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the pond, for experiments."

     On a chill October afternoon, with the sun ducking in and out behind ponderous clouds, Fuller's ecology class was determining the role of nutrients versus zooplankton grazing in the pond's algae.

     Sean Abbott '04 was one of the students collecting water samples from a rowboat.

     "There was a huge difference between this lab and the labs I was used to in high school -- much more hands-on, much more exciting and much more scenic. Bewkes was unbelievably beautiful and the colors were amazing."

     Overcoming the temptation to fire up the grill, students tromp the various stands of trees; deciduous, spruce, red pine and tamarack. In environmental studies, students investigate how forest type might influence soil structure and soil chemistry. They do throughfall studies to ascertain how the varying canopy changes the water chemistry of precipitation. They also analyze the chemistry of the pond water, well water from the nearby cottage and samples taken from Bradley Brook, with its agricultural inputs.

Jill Ramsier '03 and Sean Abbott '04 gather pond water that will be analyzed as part of their ecology class
     On two Saturdays early in the fall semester, biogeography students used standard surveying techniques to map all of the trees in two plots. The data is used to study the spatial relationship between species. Students also collected core samples to determine the age of the trees.

     "I was surprised to discover that a couple of the hemlocks were over 100 years old," says assistant professor Deanna McCay.

     In McCay's geographic information systems course, students use aerial photographs of Bewkes to generate land cover maps.

     "I am just thrilled that Colgate owns land that classes can use as an outdoor laboratory," says McCay.

     Adam Burnett, director of environmental studies, maintains a weather station at the center.

     "Bewkes offers an almost perfect setting for the collection of meteorological data," says Burnett, who involves his students in GIS mapping and soil and hydrologic testing as well.

     "I think Bewkes is a wonderful resource for the sciences," says Di Keller '79, a senior geology lecturer. "It is a small but diverse area that contains a complete watershed that allows us to do a wide variety of analyses there, and it is at a scale that the big picture can be reached in the three-hour-lab time slot."

     "The facility is an ideal natural laboratory for the students of environmental change," says Professor of Geology Bruce Selleck. In addition to field projects in the Earth and Environmental Processes course, Bewkes is home to summer research projects. Sediment cores taken from the pond contain a re-cord of the changes at Bewkes from the forest primeval through agriculture to the ongoing reforestation.

     The Bewkes Center is a place of study and more. Nearly everyone who visits is struck by the atmosphere. Says Keller, "It's a beautiful, quiet place. Even when I'm there with a group of students I find there is usually a moment or two during the lab when the hectic pace and worries of the day take a break and I breathe in a little peace."

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