What is Preservation?

by Katie Greger

What does it mean to “preserve” an ecosystem?

Land Conservation: the process of protecting natural land and returning developed land to its natural state.

Depending on the land and how much disturbance it has faced depends on the types of techniques one would approach to carry out land conservation. These techniques are as follow: preservation, restoration, remediation, and mitigation.

Preservation of the environment means that lands and their natural resources should not be consumed by humans and should instead be maintained in their pristine form. 

In terms of preserving land, the idea of “pristine” land, is land that is not touched, in the sense of altering, by humans but simply admired and enjoyed for its beauty. Many conservationists believe the environment should be used as a form of enjoyment and pleasure and not as resource for goods.

Restoration is the process of returning ecosystems and communities to their original natural conditions.

For restoration to occur scientists need to examine the land to determine what the health of the land should be. Scientists research the historical conditions of the ecosystem to return it back to the state before humans touched it. This could involve introducing native animals, planting native plants, restoring waterways to their natural path, and removing human infrastructure.

Remediation is the process of cleaning a contaminated area using relatively mild or nondestructive methods.

The main goal of remediation is to clean and restore the contaminated area while causing as little disturbance or harm as possible. Techniques for remediation follow different methods including chemical, physical, and biological methods to remove contamination.

Bioremediation falls under this concept of remediation. What it is, is the use of naturally occurring or purposefully introduced organisms to break down pollutants.

Mitigation is the process of replacing a degraded site with a healthy site that is of equal ecological value in a different location.

The purpose of this is to compensate for destroying one area by purchasing or creating a new area that is of equal ecological value.

A Pristine environment in the America’s is an environment pre-1491, pre-colonialists. It is believed that this notion is wrong. People have been “touching” the environment/landscape for as long as they have been on the earth. However, there are different forms of land manipulation that can aid in creating a healthy environment rather than a destructive/negative environment.

The Native Americans manipulated the land in such a way to make the land more useful for them. They would use fire to create more land/space for large game, which would aid them in hunting. They domesticated plants for agricultural purposes, as well as, domesticating some animals like turkeys. The Native Americans manipulated the land to better their chances of food, but did not invade the landscape, they became a part of the landscape. They were nomadic, moving with the seasons, and so, had very little to no accumulation of things. They used resources when they needed to.

When the colonists came to the Americas they viewed land in a drastically different way. They took resources from the land as their way of land manipulation, to be used in a varying of ways. They cut down trees to use for shelter and to create space for agriculture. They hunted for food, as well as, to sell. They had a concept of accumulation and a need for a market which influenced their view on the environment. They took a lot of natural resources for personal gain. There motto was excess because they saw the resources as infinite.

The Colonists and Native Americans have different notions of land use, neither is right or wrong necessarily. Each viewed and manipulated the land as a way to live, but saw how to live in very different ways. Understanding that “Pristine” is a term that shouldn’t be used with talk about the environment, especially wilderness, is necessary for policy making and discussions.

I’d like to return back to the definition of Preservation, lands and their natural resources should not be consumed by humans and should instead be maintained in their pristine form. The idea of “pristine” is a debated topic. The idea of pristine land is subjective, it should not be used as a form for creating guidelines as it is an inaccurate term for environments because there is no such thing as a “Pristine” Environment. An environment should have terminology created around whether the environment is healthy.

What makes a healthy environment is determined by the amount of toxins in the air, soil and water. To determine the amount of toxins tests are done. The ways in which to then treat unhealthy environments vary. The Living Systems Laboratory is an example of a system that is treating an unhealthy environment. The LSL is taking the polluted water from the Blackstone River/Canal and putting it through an eco-machine, that uses organic matter, such as, aquatic plants and mushrooms, to remove toxins. The LSL is trying to help the environment of the Blackstone River/canal by making it healthy again. The health of the environment is at stake because of human industrialization. Industrialization and the creation of pollutants are creating unhealthy environments.


Cronon, William.  Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New EnglandNew York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

Cunningham, Margaret. “Land Conservation.” Study.com. Accessed May 01, 2016. http:// study.com/academy/lesson/land-conservation-preserving-and-restoring-ecosystems.html.

Environmental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://www.healthypeople.gov/ 2020/topics-objectives/topic/environmental-health

Vale, T. R. (2002). Fire, native peoples, and the natural landscape. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Approaching the Ever Changing Environment

by Katie Greger

The Living Systems Laboratory is a place of great sustainability. It is a place that has created a machine that is unlike any others. It works by having all of its components work together and influence each other in such a way that allows for optimal efficiency. The goal of the eco-machine is to remove pollutants from the Blackstone river/canal. It does this by drawing in water through bottom filters which starts the process of removing pollutants. It then moves into the myco-reactors where fungi are used to remove more. Then it goes into the aquatic cells where vegetation and other organisms go to work before the water from the canal goes into the canal restorer before it then gets emptied back into the canal. The eco-machine is a great design to help combat the effects of the industrial revolution. The industrial age began alongside the Blackstone canal and river where it stood alongside mills that dumped contaminants into the water. For about 200 hundred years the Blackstone canal/river experienced the onslaught of pollutants from these mills and industries. It took 200 hundred years for people to realize and do something about the contamination. We changed the environment of the canal much like how we are influencing the change in all environments in the sense of climate change.

If we look at the system in which the Living Systems Laboratory created as a model system to combat the effects of climate change there is potential to work on bettering other ecosystems. Effects of climate change can be seen world wide especially within soil composition. Healthy soil is vital to sustaining food and nutritional security, maintaining essential ecosystem functions, mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing the occurrence of extreme weather events, eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and creating sustainable development. Much like how healthy water systems are vital to its biodiversity it holds and the many uses that come from this. It is important for people to understand the need for healthy soils and in general healthy ecosystems.

Healthy soil starts with having the right amount of nutrients. Soil needs to be healthy in much of the same ways humans need to be healthy. What’s on the minds of researchers these days is the amount of carbon within the soils. Significant research is being done in the terms of soil carbon and what is happening with the amount of soil carbon. An article, Climate Change: Soil respiration releases carbon, discusses the possible effect climate change is having on soil respiration due to the warming of the earth which allows for the rate of soil respiration to increase. This means that more carbon is being released into the atmosphere. Scientists worry that global warming is increasing the rate of decomposition of carbon in the soil which in turn releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which accelerates global warming. A study was done that looked at the carbon flow in tropical forests to determine whether increased temperature had much of an effect on the rate in which soil was releasing carbon into the atmosphere. It did have an effect, but it was much smaller than what was originally thought. Most of the excess carbon was coming from leaf litter and underground sources like roots because of the higher temperatures. Although, I believe there is potential that temperate forests experience more change because they don’t experience as much constant heat as does tropical forests. Not being used to constant heat could lead to more of a dramatic change. What was missing from this article were other tests of other kinds of forests, such as temperate forests, which could help to determine the effects of global warming on soil respiration.

Although there is a potential for the continuing release of carbon into the air through soil because of the earth’s warming there are potential sustainable ways around this. If we take the eco-machine approach to our earth’s soils there maybe an alternative way to help them. There has also been some work done in the field of carbon farming. Carbon farming is a potential sustainable way to help keep the amount of organic carbon in soils.

A recent article discusses the possibility of carbon farming as a solution to the ever growing issue surrounding soil composition, Could Carbon Farming Save Our Soils? The article focuses on the knowledge given by Rattan Lal, a soil science professor and founder of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University. He describes carbon farming as a process that takes carbon dioxide from the air and essentially puts it back into the soil. This is done by using large amounts of biomass such as manure and compost which is then added back to the soil. Another example of carbon farming is the practice of no-till farming which allows the build up of organic matter to accumulate which in turn provides more nutrients to soils.

An important aspect of the eco-machine is the use of fungi. Fungi are extraordinary organisms that are found in such variety and diversity. They are useful tools in this ever changing environment. The eco-machine uses the fungi to remove pollutants from the water. Fungi are also useful for many plants. An article, Fungi: Key to tree survival in warming forest, opens with a quote, “Just like the human microbiome, plants have a micro biome. It just tends to be fungi instead of bacteria,” which was said by Catherine Gehring, a Northern Arizona University researcher. This illustrates how important diversity is and to take into consideration how other organisms operate in terms of the biodiversity that is necessary for them. It also relates well to the LSL in its support of sustainability because of its use of organisms that benefit each other. There is a possibility where fungi rich soils could help plants who are affected by climate change. The fact there are mushrooms who help the Pinyon pine trees in Arizona with drought problems leads scientists to believe there is potential hope for other species of plants and trees that could also benefit from fungi. Fungi could be a source to help with soil composition and other aspects to climate change because there is still so much unknown about the world of fungi, yet research continues to find out more. Lastly, it is important to understand what the meaning of sustainable is. To be sustainable is to be diverse. To be truly sustainable is to foster practices and systems that nurture biodiversity.


Could Carbon Farming Save Our Soils


Climate Change: Soil respiration releases carbon


Fungi: Key to tree survival in warming forest


Conway School of Landscape Design Presents New Visions for the Fisherville Mill Site

By Jacquelyn Burmeister

On Monday, June 8th, students from the Conway School of Landscape Design joined members of the Grafton community for the Town Planning Meeting at Town Hall.  Here, they presented their new design ideas for the Fisherville Mill Site as part of the “Creating a Teaching Landscape” project that was funded by the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor last December.

Town Planner Joe Laydon began the meeting by introducing the project, briefly describing the long history that the Fisherville Mill site has had within the Town, and its recent funding from The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor for projects to make the site a replicable model for cross-disciplinary education and remediation throughout the region.  One aspect of the project included the collaboration with students from the Conway School of Landscape Design to create a site vision that would highlight the dynamic landscape of the parcel.  The students that developed the vision as their final consulting project, and had spent the majority of their final trimester at the Conway School working up to the town meeting.

Jillian Ferguson, Jeff Frisch and Hillary Collins of the Conway School present the culmination of their final semester’s work on the Fisherville Mill Site “Creating a Teaching Landscape” project.

Jillian Ferguson, Jeff Frisch and Hillary Collins of the Conway School present the culmination of their final semester’s work on the Fisherville Mill Site “Creating a Teaching Landscape” project.

From here, students Jillian Ferguson, Jeff Frisch and Hillary Collins walked the community through various visions of the site, highlighting and building upon the current nature, community and industry attractions of the land.  Some potential future enhancements included creating a “ghost” of the old mill building, using old granite slabs at the site to draw an open-air outline of the building footprint, including remnants of the old factory gears and other large machinery.  Also proposed was an amphitheater overseeing a new boat launch and dock on the Fisherville Pond, an upgrade to the current Eco-Machine, boardwalks and footpaths along the waterfront, and observation deck, shading for the Mill Villages Park, and a new design for the future mixed use development that the site hopes to ultimately construct.  The idea is that each entity can stand as a discrete project that can be funded when the opportunity arises, so that the town can advance to the final vision at its own pace.

Site owner, Gene Bernat, talks about the positive impact that the remediated Fisherville Mill Site has already had on the community.

Site owner, Gene Bernat, talks about the positive impact that the remediated Fisherville Mill Site has already had on the community.

After describing the proposed enhancements, the students presented how these projects would appear within the bounds of the natural landscape of the site with two potential sketches. They invited community participation in the design of the final plan, using color-coded stickers to indicate how feasible each design aspect was.  While Planning Board and community members filed up to get a closer look at the plans, Gene Bernat, the owner of the site, gave a few words about the larger vision of the Fisherville Mill project.  “We want to create a place that people want to be; that highlights the natural and social history of the site, as well as the past and future science”, he said.  The site has already received a lot of attention both inside the Grafton Community and internationally, for its community designed Mill Villages Park and the innovative way in which the Eco-Machine remediates the contaminated water of the Blackstone River. “The park vastly improved South Grafton”, continued Gene, “and now we have the potential to do so much more”.

One potential plan for the site, blue and green dots represent entities that were received well by the community.

One potential plan for the site, blue and green dots represent entities that were received well by the community.

The project was received with enthusiasm, and the plans displayed during the meeting were covered in dots representing positive remarks about the fixtures.  With this feedback, the students at Conway will create their final proposal for the site.

If you would like to get a better look at the project plans, they will be on display at the Grafton Town Hall.  More pictures will be available on the Living Systems Lab at the Fisherville Mill Facebook page, and space is provided for public comment.

Stay tuned for more information about this project!

Fisherville Mill Interpretive Master Plan Meeting on May 14th

By Jacquelyn Burmeister

On Wednesday, May 14th at 7:00pm, students from the Conway School of Design and Grafton Town Officials will meet at the Community Center at 25 Main Street South to help develop a master plan for interpretive sites on the Fisherville Mill site and Mill Villages Park that will tell the natural, historical, and social history of the site and South Grafton.  This meeting will be open to the public and is a part of the larger project funded by The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor called “Creating a Teaching Landscape”.

“We hope to expand the unique vision embodied in the Living System Laboratory and the Fisherville Mill Redevelopment Project, be a part of shaping a vision that will have enormous impact on the future of South Grafton and the Blackstone Heritage Corridor,” says Gene Bernat, the owner of the site.

In December of 2014, The Town of Grafton was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor to develop a suite of educational materials to engage citizens and visitors in the diverse offerings of the site.  In it, the Town proposed collaborations with The Conway School of Design, educators, high school students, and the Community of Grafton.

The public has always played a large role in the development of the Fisherville Mill Site, and the Mill Villages Park that now lies in the southern portion of the site was largely designed by the community.  Grafton´s Planning & Conservation Department hopes this trend continues and invites the town to come out to learn more about the project as well as contribute to its development by sharing its vision for the site.

To learn more about the grant, click here.

To learn more about the meeting, click here.

Link to LSL Facebook page.

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor grants the Town of Grafton $10,000 to “Create a Teaching Landscape” at the Fisherville Redevelopment Site

On December 4th The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor awarded The Town of Grafton $10,000 in funds to develop the Fisherville Mill Redevelopment Site’s project “Creating a Teaching Landscape”.  The project aims at developing a suite of educational materials to engage citizens and visitors in the diverse offerings of the site.

The Town envisions the Fisherville Mill Site as a durable regional asset for tourism, education and research focused on the ecology and industrial history of the greater Blackstone River Valley.   In the current project, educators, students and community members will contribute to creating new and compelling systems to engage and interact with the past, present and future of The Blackstone River.

 The Fisherville Mill Redevelopment Site: From blight to public asset

 The Fisherville Mill Redevelopment Site is one the most complex and challenging brownfields in the region. The site has been the focus of an innovative collaborative approach to remediation and redevelopment.  The Southern region of the site has been partially remediated and contains the new Mill Villages Park and Pavilion, The Living Systems Laboratory and an informal boat launch access to the Blackstone River.   Central to the site and within the park, the Living Systems Laboratory (LSL) is an engineered ecosystem that employs innovative bioremediation practices and applied ecology using diverse living systems to remove the historical contaminants from the Blackstone Canal.  The LSL provides is compelling platform for translational research, science education and public outreach, and has attracted researchers and students from all over the country to learn about systems ecology and ecological design.

Over the years, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor has been integral in garnering public support and helping in the planning of the development of the Fisherville Mill Site, as well as other mill sites in the area, with the co-writing of the South Grafton Villages Master Plan.  The National Heritage Corridor also routinely sends its rangers to the Fisherville Mill site to receive and give regional historical and environmental training.  For example, this past June these rangers held a summer public “Walkabout” through the site in which the rangers taught participants about the history of the Fisherville Mill Site and how the Eco Machine is helping to protect and preserve the Blackstone Watershed.

“Creating a Teaching Landscape”

 The funds from the current grant will be allocated between three sub-projects that will culminate in a package of educational materials that will be accessible to visitors, educators and researchers, and create a replicable model for cross-disciplinary education and remediation throughout the region.  A large portion will be used to fund a group of Master’s students from the Conway School of Design to design footpaths, signage and educational material for the site.  Funding will also be provided to creating a wildlife catalogue for the plant and animal species of the area.

Another portion of the project examines how the Eco-Machine can create value for the Town of Grafton through the cleaning of water contaminated by industrial pollutants.  Some of the funding will be reserved for the design of a nursery inside of the Living System’s Lab, utilizing the cleaned water to propagate flowers to sell.

After these studies are complete, educators and students from a local school will be working on the integration of the results into a comprehensive curriculum that will allow visitors of all ages to interact with the history and ecology of the site.

The funding from the National Heritage Corridor will enable the creation of an innovative “Teaching Landscape” that will meaningfully highlight the unique industrial and ecological history of the Blackstone River, and engage communities and researchers in a replicable interactive learning environment where the past, present and future meet.  The funds will be matched by in-kind contributions from the Town, Conway and other participants.  Presently, the project is projected to begin in the summer of 2015.




Evidence for Engineered Ecosystems

Want even more information about the design of the LSL and its effectiveness in breaking down hydrocarbons? Check out Jakob Schenker’s UVM Masters Thesis, which provides and overview of the system and the measurements to support its functioning.



About the Author:

Jakob Schenker was one Dr. John Todd’s students at The University of Vermont in Burlington and worked on the project at its inception.  He is now pursuing his MBA in Sustainable Entrepreneurship at UVM. 

Conway School of Design visits The Fisherville Mill for a Canal Restorer Workshop

Last week, the LSL together with JTED hosted the Conway School of Design’s Ecological Design master’s class in an afternoon workshop at the Eco Machine site.

Gene Bernat, site owner, and JTED went over the working concepts and science behind the Eco Machine and canal restorers, and students went on to design and construct their own canal restorers from oil absorbent booms, flowering bulbs, iris rhizomes, seed heads and other plants from the site.

“The design and materials are totally unique to my knowledge and represent an adaptive use and innovative evolution of the canal restorer concept,” states Bernat.

The advantage to the design produced by Conway is the ubiquity of the materials, and therefore the ability to replicate the product.  Oil booms, which have been observed to trap oil while serving as a plant substrate, are available everywhere.  The plants that are added to the booms are local, according to the rules of biomimicry.

The bulbs were added as an experiment to evaluate the ability of the Eco Machine to produce flowers that are commercially viable.

A big thanks to Conway for coming out and contributing to the development of the project and the clean-up of the Blackstone Canal.

2014-09-08 13.58.26

For more photos, visit our Facebook Page

For more information on The Conway School of Design, see the website



The Big Day

Today was the big day! Professor Hibbett and I went to the Fisherville site. We took the 23 bags of mycelium inoculated with Irpex, Trametes, and Pleurotus. We joined Gene, his son Nick, and Max from John Todd Ecological Designs. First we cleaned the 23 bins with water. We added about 20 lbs of hard wood pellets (an oak and maple blend). Next we added about four gallons of water to each bin and let the pellets absorbs the water. It was amazing to see the pellets grow with water! We labeled the bins with a labeler that Nick had with the names of each of the fungi. We then gloved up and inoculated the bins with the bags of mycelium. We had to be careful and break apart the mycelium on the rye. It was a really interesting texture: slimy and but very cohesive. We spread out the mycelium in the wood chips as thoroughly as we could.We then carried the bins inside the trailer with air-conditioning and covered them up. The bins are now ready to be placed in the eco-machine.

Our first visit of the summer

Last week Professor Hibbett, and two undergraduate research assistants (myself and Sam Kovaka), visited the site. It was a beautiful sunny day! We met Gene Bernat there, and he gave us a tour of the greenhouse. He updated us on the status of the project. We have a lot to do! Soon we will inoculate the mycelium beds in the greenhouse. We found mushrooms growing at the banks of the canal where the previous wood chips were laid out. We also spotted some turtles swimming in the canal!

– Vanessa