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Technically, it's known as the Wilma Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park. More informally, Ohio State University's wetland complex is known as a living classroom, the breathing brainchild of Professor Bill Mitsch.

Olentangy River Wetland Research Park 352 Dodridge St., Clintonville 614-292-9774 Homepage

Now, this quiet expanse doesn't look like much. In fact, you've probably driven or even biked past it without stopping to notice. Yet it's a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, meaning it's crucial to educational and environmental missions.

The number of research programs that have used it in full or in part during the past two decades is mind-blowing. And as far as scientific discovery is concerned, there's no end in sight.

As I learned from the mission statement, "It is a long-term, large-scale wetland research facility. There is no other facility of its kind on any other university campus in the world, so it also has as its mission the dissemination of wetland science and ecological engineering around the world."

Pretty cool. For those not into taking water samples, the 52-acre preserve is great for birding and wildlife watching. There's a series of billabongs, marshy areas and unimproved walking trails, as well as a welcome center.

It's definitely worth a visit, especially in spring, when water fills the various facilities Mitsch and his staff have carved and cared for since 1992. Researchers host a series of programs, tours, lectures and hands-on demonstrations throughout the year.

Here's a few more images to give you an idea of what you'll find:

View larger image This Canada goose was nesting happily among reeds in one of the smaller ponds. You can also expect to see migratory birds coming up the Olentangy corridor, as well as tons of species who hang out longer: red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows and American goldfinches, to name a few.

View larger image Wildflowers are strewn among the bottomland hardwood forest that lines the river.

View larger image The lobby of the Heffner building holds a few chairs, some cool displays and extensive press on the wetlands and their mission.

View larger image Through the Update 2010 initiative, Earth Day volunteers swarmed the wetland Saturday, April 17, to remove trash and invasive species and plant native greenery. Nice to see such a good turnout.