As one of its final collegiate projects, a group of Ohio State University students is working to improve the health of Whetstone Park.

Led by Ohio State professor Suzanne Gray, 26 students spent nearly the entire spring semester preparing their senior capstone project, titled "The Future of Whetstone Park."

The project was meant to improve water quality in Clintonville by offering the city of Columbus a plan for improvements, beautification projects, management strategies and even visitor education.

"Our project had two central goals, the first being to improve the educational experience and community involvement opportunities in the park and the second being to improve Whetstone Park's ecosystem functions," project manager Maddy Lambrix told the Clintonville Area Commission during the April meeting.

The 26-student group split into five different teams to tackle different aspects of the project.

Teams focused individually on Whetstone's recreation plan, prairie area, education and communication, the casting pond and the park's brook and wetlands area.

In each aspect, the group developed a plan for improvement.

In recreational areas, the students suggested implementing rain gardens in paved areas to filter toxins out of water before it reaches a stream.

For prairie areas, the team recommended a management plan for upkeep and minimization of invasive species.

To "enhance park visitor experience, interaction and connection to Whetstone," the group's education team mapped educational signs and other outreach.

Students also found that adding vegetation around the park's casting pond could improve water quality and aesthetics while benefiting the health of fish.

Finally, in the brook and wetlands area, they suggested a management plan that mitigates erosion by adding natural vegetation and monitoring area species.

The project started its planning phases in January and began in earnest in February. Over the course of months of work, Lambrix and Sydney Stobart, one of the project coordinators, said the team learned a lot about the process of implementing research in a real-world scenario.

"We knew about water goals and stuff like that," Lambrix said, "but we didn't know how to work with a city, a park or anything else."

The project was initiated by "stakeholders" Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed and the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, which brought the idea to Ohio State.

That meant students had to collaborate with leaders from FLOW and the city of Columbus along the way.

"It was super-practical to work with the stakeholders and the community," Stobart said. "You don't get that experience in every college class."

Along the way, the group has presented its ideas to the Clintonville Area Commission, Ohio State's Environmental Professionals Network and the CAC's GreenSpot task force.

The commission is working to qualify Clintonville as the fourth GreenSpot neighborhood in Columbus. GreenSpot's goal is to urge households, businesses and neighborhoods to commit to environmental goals.

Members of the Ohio State group said they are proud of their work, but realistic about its implementation.

Working with the CAC and other groups means ultimately they will have the power to implement – or ignore – the suggestions made in the report.

Lambrix and Stobart said "everyone seems pretty excited" about their work, but they also know change won't happen in Whetstone overnight.

"There have been a lot of really supportive individuals who have worked with us and been very positive," Lambrix said, "but also we understand this is a city government and the way that goes, and we know not every proposal is going to be implemented."

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