PERSPECTIVES Summer 2000: Inside Story
Perspectives On Line

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  Photo by Herman Lankford

Acres of Opportunity


Photo by Herman Lankford

here comes a time in any pedagogical endeavor when a student must practice what his or her teacher has been preaching, when the student must try what the text teaches. For students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, that time often comes at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory, a 1,529-acre swath of field and forest just south of Raleigh.

The Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory may not have the bricks and mortar presence of, say, a Centennial Campus, but it is a vital part of the College and North Carolina State University nevertheless. The rolling fields that make up the field laboratory provide a setting where students may put what they have learned from their lectures and books into practice, where they can get their feet wet and their hands dirty.

“Textbook learning is fine, but students need to see that subjects like reproductive biology and anatomy finally make sense,” is the way Dr. George Barthalmus, associate dean and director of academic programs, puts it. “You just can’t study dairy cattle, swine or poultry in a textbook alone. You have to work with the organism. You just have to be there. There’s nothing theoretical about it. It’s pure hands-on work.”

The Lake Wheeler Road site is a well-used classroom. Students from the departments of Animal Science, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Botany, Crop Science, Entomology, Food Science, Horticultural Science, Plant Pathology, Poultry Science, Soil Science and Zoology and the Biological Sciences program in the College regularly use the area, as do students from the colleges of Natural Resources (formerly Forest Resources) and Veterinary Medicine.

According to Barthalmus, more than 2,000 undergraduate students make more than 33,000 student visits to the field lab each year. Numerous graduate students also use the facility, but their visits are often unscheduled and are, therefore, difficult to record.

Of course, proximity makes all those student visits possible. The Lake Wheeler Field Lab is close enough to campus that visits to the facility may be included in the regular class schedule.

“That proximity is critical,” says Barthalmus. “We are fortunate to have such a beautiful and large facility where students can do everything from grow crops to work with animals.”

Photo by Herman Lankford

Yet as important as Lake Wheeler Road is now to the College, it is likely to become even more important in the future. That’s because in the future there seems a good chance Lake Wheeler Road will be the College’s only field laboratory of significant size in proximity to campus. While there are now six field laboratories close to campus, Lake Wheeler Road and the Reedy Creek Field Laboratory west of Raleigh are the only ones of more than 500 acres.

Development is threatening the Reedy Creek Road Field Laboratory, says Dr. Eric Young, assistant director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service. It is already difficult to move machinery to and from Reedy Creek, and an extension of Edwards Mill Road is to take a portion of the property. With the Entertainment and Sports Arena, new home of the Wolfpack basketball team, now located nearby, more development is almost sure to follow.

“We’re assuming that eventually we’ll lose Reedy Creek as a field lab,” says Young, who was instrumental in preparing a long-range plan for the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory.

That plan calls for many of the units now at Reedy Creek eventually to move to Lake Wheeler Road. While there are already some beef cattle at Lake Wheeler Road, a larger Beef Educational Unit is to be the first of at least six Reedy Creek Road facilities to be moved. Equine and small ruminant educational units are eventually to move to Lake Wheeler Road, as are the Forage Field Program, Metabolism Educational Unit and ornamental plots. The Turfgrass Field Laboratory, now adjacent to the N.C. State University Club on Hillsborough Street, is also slated for an eventual move.

The long-range plan calls for several new facilities to be located at Lake Wheeler Road. A teaching animal arena, classroom facility, urban pest management training facility and veterinary and urban entomology research and extension laboratory are to be part of Lake Wheeler Road in the future.

Adding units at Lake Wheeler Road that deal with animals would seem to make sense, for animals are already the focus of the field lab.

The aquaculture, chicken, dairy, swine and turkey educational units already are located at Lake Wheeler Road, as is the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center’s Waste Processing Facility. In addition, a feed mill designed for research is planned for Lake Wheeler Road.

At any one time, the Lake Wheeler Road Field Lab is home to between 1,100 and 1,500 pigs, about 320 dairy cattle, from 80 to 120 beef cattle, perhaps 6,000 chickens and 3,000 turkeys and around 50,000 fish. There are even a few snakes housed there.

A variety of crops is also grown at the site, mostly as food for the animals. They include corn, small grains and a variety of grasses that may be made into hay or silage.

In addition, Lake Wheeler Road is used for research focusing on a variety of crops and subjects. College researchers are studying grapes, Christmas trees, ornamental plants, forage and cover crops, pest control, stream restoration, erosion control and forest and watershed management.

Photo by Herman Lankford

Lake Wheeler Road is also the site of the National Training Center for Land-Based Technology and Watershed Protection and the Air Quality-Plant Growth and Development Unit. The National Training Center provides instruction in the proper use and maintenance and demonstrations of various waste management technologies. The Air Quality-Plant Growth and Development Unit is the site of research focusing on the effects of atmospheric stresses arising from human activities and global climate change on agricultural productivity and sustainability.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service uses the field lab for a variety of activities, including various 4-H events, while the site is also home to a number of other miscellaneous activities. For example, each spring the College invites school children from throughout the area to the field lab for Farm Animal Days, a chance to learn about and sometimes even touch a variety of farm animals.

Yet all the units already located at or planned for Lake Wheeler Road notwithstanding, the facility that may change the face of the area more than any other is a planned Wake County park.

Yates Mill Park is an innovative partnership of the university, the county and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Yates Mill, a historic grist mill that dates to 1756, and the pond that serves the mill will be the centerpiece of the park. The county is to lease from the university 212 acres around the mill and pond, while the Department of Agriculture will make available another 400 acres of adjacent forest land for nature trails.

Photo by Herman Lankford

Plans call for the park to provide educational opportunities for all ages. It will be an outdoor classroom for the study of subjects such as the history and technology of the mill, the ecology of the surrounding area and the relationship between agriculture and the environment.

That is as it should be, for the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory has long been a location where visitors learn about the world around them.

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