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MU's Biological Sciences offers canoe trip on Twelvepole Creek

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 11:39 PM

HUNTINGTON -- While many folks load up and go hours away to paddle a good stream, a group from Marshall University's Department of Biological Sciences has been exploring a stream here in the proverbial backyard.

Headed by MU assistant biology professor Jeff Kovatch, perhaps best known for founding the popular Dine and Discover lecture series as well as the Fourpole Creek Watershed group, the Twelvepole Creek canoe expedition consisted of about a dozen students, Kovatch and a couple community members, who did freshwater mussel research and enjoyed a great day of paddling.

Kovatch, who paddled the Biology Department's swamp-tested canoe, The Wounded Buffalo, said the impetus for the day trip (from the Dickson dam to Route 75) on Twelvepole, was to get some of the biology and math students who've been working in his lab out to see the habitat and to look for more of the freshwater mussels they've been studying.

"Marshall got a three-year Undergraduates Mathematics grant from the National Science Foundation to pair math majors with biology students and thus do biology projects with math," Kovatch said. "The group is my lab working on some stuff with freshwater mussels, and a lot of the work is in the lab where they are estimating metabolic rates and things like that. We wanted to get them out in the field to see where mussels live."

While the lab had been using some mussels found out in a Barboursville pond, Kovatch, who had floated and found mussels on the upper part of Twelvepole, wanted to float the lower part of the stream that got its name as early explorers (including George Washington), measured the mouth of the creek at 12 poles or 198 feet where it joins the Ohio near Ceredo.

"So part of it is to get out there and find out where they are and tag that spot with GPS so if we want to go back and find certain specimens from there," Kovatch said. "One of the big things is that as a biologist you don't want to spend too much time in the lab, you want to, especially as a young biologist, get out there where biology is happening. I guess for any field, but speaking as a biologist what got me interested in biology was growing up in western Pennsylvania out in the woods and playing in the streams and creeks and catching tadpoles and turtles. That is the stuff that gets you excited about it when you are young. When you get into college it becomes so much more about academics and so much more about being in the library that sometimes you need to get out to what inspired you."

Although tributaries of Twelvepole Creek form the large and boat-laden recreational lakes of Beech Fork and East Lynn, Kovatch said he's only talked to one local person, David Watson, a Wayne County Marshall University student who had ever done much canoeing on the stream.

"I didn't grow up here so I can't say whether people used to float it or not, and we did see some people fishing but it really is a pretty stretch for a nice float, and I think it is underused," said Kovatch, whose crew saw Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, fish and muskrat on the trip.

Interestingly, while Kovatch had access to one canoe and a duckie (or inflatable kayak), he was able to rent additional canoes from the Marshall Recreation Center's Outdoor Adventure Center, which rents canoes and kayaks by the day, weekend and week, to Rec members and the general public, as well as a whole array of backpacking and outdoor gear.

Kovatch said easy campus accessibility and low price of rentals made the trip hassle free for taking a group out exploring.

"It's not just storage but if you just want to try backpacking or rock climbing or canoeing or kayaking you can do it for not much, and especially not much by comparison of buying something. It's a great deal," said Kovatch, who has a doctorate in biology from Syracuse University and a bachelors degree in ecology and evolution from the University of Pittsburgh. "And it's an awesome resource because there are so many opportunities to do stuff in West Virginia and just over in Kentucky like Carter Caves and some great state and federal land in southern Ohio. There's some gorgeous forest up there."

Kovatch said he hopes to take more local field trips to inspire students the way he was inspired by going out in the field a few years ago with famed evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis. The former wife of Carl Sagan came to Marshall to visit professor Victor Fett, who had worked with her on a project translating the work of a pioneering Russian biologist.

"She was here for the weekend and her plane was leaving late Sunday and she said she didn't want to tour any buildings, so I said we could take her to the Greenbottom Swamp. And so we got a couple canoes and we went out in the canoes and she was in the middle, and she was in her mid to late 70s at the time and Dr. Dan Evans, who is now retired and a botanist, he was in the back and Rachel Watson, who was then an undergrad was in the front of the canoe," Kovatch said. "We paddled through the swamp with the flowers of the lilly pads sitting three free above the water and it felt like we were in another world. It was awesome and watching Dr. Margulis and Dr. Evans they were like 10 years olds still fascinated by biology in their 70s. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life as a biologist. There's some stuff around here that fascinates world renowned biologists and that we overlook. Getting undergrads out there to see some of that -- that is our goal."

Rec Center Rentals:

DID YOU KNOW? The Marshall Recreation Center offers a comprehensive selection of camping, backpacking, kayaking, and canoeing gear for rent. The Center has everything from kayaks and canoes, backpacking gear, bikes and more.

RENTING: Equipment can be rented by the day, weekend or week. Rates are assessed according to full day use and do not include the day of the equipment pick-up. Late fees begin the day after the agreed rental. Weekend rentals begin after 2 p.m. on Friday and extend until 10 p.m. on Monday.

RESERVATIONS: Reservations can be made up to one month in advance and are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Cancellations must be made 48 hours in advance of the equipment pick-up for a full refund.

CALL: 304-696-4REC (4732) and ask for the Outdoor Pursuits

ON THE WEB: http://www.marshallcampusrec.com/outdoor/rentals/

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