Garono has big plans for Lake Superior NERRHe’s only been living in the Twin Ports for a few weeks, but already Dr. Ralph Garono has big plans for a new estuary research and education center being developed in Superior.
By: By Brittany Berrens, University Relations student writer, Superior Telegram
He’s only been living in the Twin Ports for a few weeks, but already Dr. Ralph Garono has big plans for a new estuary research and education center being developed in Superior.
Garono was hired by University of Wisconsin-Extension in December as manager of the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve in Douglas County. He currently is working on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus — one of the partner organizations in the NERR — but eventually will move his office to the reserve’s visitor center on Barkers Island in Superior.
The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, designated last fall by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is part of a nationwide network of 28 reserves. It will serve as a site to study natural resource management techniques and to promote educational programs about the freshwater estuary where the St. Louis River flows into Lake Superior.
Garono earned a doctorate degree in aquatic ecology from Kent State University in Ohio. He’s explored a variety of scientific fields and held positions at universities, state agencies and at the federal level. Before accepting his current post, Garono operated his own consulting business in Oregon for 15 years.
Big plans in the works
Garono has hit the ground running at NERR. Two leased buildings, the former Boathouse Restaurant and Vista Shops, on Barker’s Island are being refurbished to serve as the reserve’s headquarters. The next step is to hire two new staff members who can coordinate research and education.
By summer, Garono hopes to have the reserve open for business, allowing community members to tour a visitor center and explore what the research center is all about. In about two years he hopes to have dormitories built to accommodate visiting researchers.
“They [the building] will be a place to live and breathe and do science,” Garono said.
Research opportunities for students
Having a new research center with ties to UW-Superior also will add more opportunities for students who are interested in going into the conservation field. Ultimately, Garono hopes the center will allow students to explore job prospects.
“It will allow students to have experience with field work and allow them to interact with researchers from other institutes,” Garono said. “It’s a way for students to see what the job market is like.”
He also hopes to be able to employ student researchers through the university’s work study program.
The research reserve isn’t just for scientists. Plans are in the works to get community members and lawmakers involved as well. In addition to the visitor center, Garono’s goal is to set up programs for schoolchildren, homeowners and community leaders to educate them about protecting Superior’s freshwater resources.
“It’s here to support the community,” Garono said. “Our goal is try to make people have a stronger interest in the area in which they live.”
Another aspect of the reserve’s community outreach includes translating raw scientific data into information easily understood by the public. One way Garono hopes to do that is by placing real-time data collectors in the St. Louis River that are linked to a website. His goal is for classrooms to be able to access the information on river’s temperature, acidity and other factors.
Many partners involved
UW-Superior is working with several other institutions to make the research reserve successful. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, city of Superior, Douglas County, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Wisconsin Coastal Management, and U. S. Coast Guard are all involved in the project.
The organizations will work together to monitor the coastal areas of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior to learn more about how similar land and water throughout the country can be restored and preserved.
“I would like this NERR to be a mechanism that allows people to collaborate,” Garono said. “This NERR will sort of be a dance floor that everybody can do their own dance on.”