South Mountain Research Corps (SMRC) and Science Summit Update

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
Zora Neale Hurston
In the last two months, I reached out to roughly 45 South Mountain Partnership landowners, land managers, and land use planners to ask them for their priority topics for academic research and assistance. This was, apparently, the right question to ask and the right time to ask it! My in-box quickly filled up, and a series of phone calls, Zoom conferences, in-person meetings and email exchanges soon followed. As September ends, we now have a list of 55 individual research priorities from all corners of South Mountain country!
The partners research concerns were extremely diverse, and ranged from very specific in focus, for example the design of individual trails, to much larger issues like the proliferation of invasive species. Responses and suggestions came from all three counties within the South Mountain Landscape, and from a dozen partners. The suggested lines of inquiry were divided among multiple disciplines including biology and environmental sciences, geology and earth sciences, parks and recreation, forestry, history and archaeology, and geography and demographics. As the Research Corp’s steering committee begins to consider and evaluate this long list of research suggestions, a few large themes suggest themselves and unite many of the priorities.
The influence and effects of climate change extend to concerns as diverse as the hydrogeology of limestone springs, the spread of invasive species, and the preservation of historic properties. Implementing water quality best practices is a concern that affects municipal, county, and state governments as well as farmers, developers, and foresters. The need for effective communication and real public engagement was expressed in research topics as different as timber rattlesnake conservation and household-level efforts to combat climate change. All of these concerns, large and small, broad and specific, will form fertile ground to grow new and innovative partnerships between universities and landowners and land managers as the Research Corps continues its efforts.
Our next step will be to meet in late October to prioritize and combine the suggested research priorities into logical and related groupings. From these will come a group of problem statements that we expect to share with our university partners before the winter break. The proposals that address these problem statements will become the hard data we all need to make sound land use decisions and to preserve and learn from this special landscape we’re privileged to live in.
-Joe Baker