Lacawac Sanctuary Field Station Celebrates 50 Years of Research

By Zachary Gotthardt

SC Staff Writer

On Friday, March 27, Lesley Knoll and Craig Lukatch talked about the Lacawac Sanctuary Field Station as part of this semester’s Biocolloquium Series. Knoll and Lukatch proudly mentioned nearly 50 years of continuous research on site and what they have planned for the future.

Knoll, the Director of Education, began the presentation by talking about what the sanctuary provides to the community.

“We are an independent, non-profit field station, nature preserve, and environmental education center,” said Knoll. The site was founded in 1966 by the Walkers family as a place for anyone who wishes to learn about the natural world.

The site is located about an hour from ESU near Lake Wallenpaupack and has an area of about 150 acres. Lacawac owns about a mile of shoreline along the lake.

“A lot of what we do at Lacawac tends to be focused on the lake,” Knoll said.

The site was created with the intent to preserve natural land.

“Our mission is research education and prevention,” Knoll continued. The Walkers set aside the land to prevent human impact.

Knoll said, “They were very forward-thinking for their time in the 60s.” The family made it a point to invite scientists from the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia.

“[These scientists] said that Lacawac needed to be preserved. The lake in particular was very special…There was little in the way of human impact at the lake,” said Knoll.

Lacawac has hosted many PhD scientists in the last 50 years. This privilege has allowed for long term studies, particularly on the lake.

Comprehensive studies on organic matter levels in the lake over several decades have shed light on changes around the lake.

Knoll showed a word map of all of the scientific papers written about Lacawac from each decade, giving the audience an idea of how the research has changed over the years.

In the 60s, the projects were fairly simplistic, focusing only on the ecology of the lake. As time went on, technology improved, and scientists were able to focus their research to more specific areas, such as plankton populations within the lake.

There are also studies focused on the woods surrounding the lake. More recently, scientists have been attempting to quantify the detrimental impact of an exploding deer population on the forest.

Scientists from several states have come to Lacawac to study in its remote location.

Colleges and universities that are a part of the land trust are able to bring classes along to get hands on experience at the lake.

Professors are not the only ones who are learning at the lake. The Lacawac Sanctuary Field Station’s education department is currently expanding its summer internship program to incorporate about half a dozen interns each summer.

These internships focus on a variety of topics, such as environmental education and conservation.

The education department also focuses on topics aside from biology, such as how to run a non-profit organization. With a small staff, Lacawac is able to emphasize hands-on experience and individual attention from mentors.

According to Lukatch, Lacawac has an active presence in community outreach and education.

“Back in 2013, we established a consortium with Miami University, Drexel University, and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia,” said Lukatch.

This consortium is geared toward teaching grade school students about the basics of environmental conservation.

Between all affiliate members, the consortium consists of almost 80,000 acres of protected lands. All of these areas share the same mission as Lacawac. According to Lukatch, these areas are public areas that anyone can use for research. 

There are also members of the consortium that are business focused, and they work on affecting relevant public policy for the environment, such as water quality.

Lukatch extended an invitation to any ESU student who wanted to enjoy Lacawac’s pristine location. Anyone interested can contact the sanctuary via Facebook. Housing and laboratories are available for rent on site.

The Lacawac Sanctuary Field Station hopes to continue its mission for many years to come.

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