Merry Lea Environmental Center
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Lee and Mary Jane Reith donated the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center to Goshen College in 1980. This gift has given the college the capacity to develop an environmental studies program with a distinctive set of field-based courses. Today, Goshen College lists "an understanding of responsible stewardship for. . . the environment" as one of ten desired outcomes for its students. The setting creates a great opportunity for hands-on learning. Varied ecosystems provide an outdoor classroom for studying biodiversity and interconnectedness, and land management techniques and restoration projects are the basis of longitudinal studies. Merry Lea is a good place to learn about the results of draining wetlands. Over the past 150 years, the practice of laying drain tile destroyed 85% of Indiana's wetlands and significantly altered the American landscape. Some of Merry Lea is still tiled; a 9-acre restored wetland and photographs from the 1960s of the same land under cultivation illustrate the powerful impact drain tile has had on North American wetlands.
Merry Lea is the largest nature preserve owned by a private college in the state of Indiana. According to Marion T. Jackson, writing in The Natural History of Indiana, a parcel of land like Merry Lea could not be assembled anywhere in Indiana today. Most of the habitats found in northeastern Indiana are present within Merry Lea's 1,150 acres: short-grass prairie, buttonbush swamp, cattail marsh, swamp maple forest, oak-hickory forest, and open meadow. This diversity of ecosystems makes Merry Lea a gem of an educational resource. It is home to 170 species of birds, 28 species of mammals, 17 species of amphibians and 32 species of fish. Meanwhile, unique geological features enable the study of the last ice age and its dramatic impact on local topography. Merry Lea is also a repository of information for the farming practices of earlier years. In addition to ecology-based programs, the staff offer programs in farm craft, highlighting farming practices and Native American ways of life.