Marlin Johnson, resident manager of the Field Station, knows that there are many people who envy his home.
Right place, right time, he says.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life to have a situation like this,” Johnson said.
In fact, the Field Station has been very fortunate to have a man like Marlin Johnson serve as its caretaker for more than four decades. A retired UW-Waukesha biology professor, he has lived on and maintained the 98-acre former farm since 1970, watching it transform from cornfields to an “outdoor laboratory” that has served countless students and visitors.
The second annual WAUK with WINC 5k walk/run is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29. The goal of the event is to bring about awareness and support for the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Field Station and the Wildlife in Need Center as they work together to connect people, nature and wildlife in southeastern Wisconsin.
A 1986 article on the Field Station that Johnson penned for a now defunct magazine reveals the passion he feels for the site and the wonders it provokes in him: “I wish I could have been here in 1837 when George Hosmer first saw his 346-acre claim. I wish I could have witnessed the prairie and oak opening that covered most of southwestern Waukesha County – could have felt the wind that played with eight-foot-tall grasses – could have hear the cooing of the now-extinct passenger pigeons making love in bur oak branches – and could have seen the kaleidoscope of colorful wildflowers flirting with butterflies.”
Gertrude Sherman, a Waterville resident and alumna of UW-Madison, donated the land for the Field Station, W349 S1480 S. Waterville Road, Oconomowoc, in 1967 to be kept in its natural state. Johnson’s focus has been to restore the Field Station to communities of plants and animals native to Wisconsin. The site features rolling glacial deposits covered with old field vegetation, 20-acre oak woods, a small lake with marshlands, a shallow pond and a cold water stream.
“The stated goal of the Field Station has been to maximize teaching value by creating as many natural communities as possible,” said Johnson, who lives in the historical log farmhouse that was built on the property in 1844.
Faculty, students and community members can use the Field Station to do research or simply to be close to nature. Photography students, garden club enthusiasts, birdwatchers, 4-Hers, insect observers – as well as the bicyclists and dog walkers who have used the bike trail that runs through the site – and many others have taken advantage of the Field Station’s offerings.
This past summer, a student intern conducted a project in which he collected 15 different kinds of dragonflies found at the Field Station. Each April, art students use the Field Station’s large, wood-fired kiln to create distinct works of art. The preparation and firing of the kiln are an annual Field Station ritual.
The Field Station also features a classroom building – the Gertrude Sherman Building – and in 2011 became home to the Wildlife in Need Center, which provides rehabilitation to Wisconsin wildlife and releases them back to their native habitat.
Each spring, Johnson leads an annual prairie burning that is designed to prevent woody plants from shading out prairie species. Volunteers help with burn and to carry out other important tasks at the Field Station such as picking and planting prairie seeds and other seasonal labor.
Restoring the site to a natural area is an ongoing process, Johnson said. “It’s not done,” he said. “It’s always going on. I hope one day there are 300-year-old pine trees and a 300-year-old prairie.”
UW–Waukesha has the largest enrollment among the 13 UW Colleges campuses with more than 2,000 students. These freshman/sophomore campuses and UW Colleges Online comprise the UW Colleges. They offer an associate of arts and sciences degree and prepare students of all ages and backgrounds for baccalaureate and professional programs. In addition, UW-Waukesha offers several collaborative bachelor’s degrees through UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh.
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