The Delaware school board has committed to protecting the wetlands area behind Dempsey Middle School.
Paul Olen, a science teacher and creator of the Dempsey Summer Ecology Project, addressed the board Tuesday night and asked them to take steps to prevent development of the wetlands.
“Probably no school in the state, and few schools in the country have a 50-acre wetland/woodland in their backyards to be used as an educational resource,” Olen said. “The area is a natural sciences land lab for science students in the district. It is utilized by other classes as well for a variety of activities.”
More than 30 students, teachers and community members came to the board meeting Tuesday to support Olen and protecting the wetlands.
Superintendent Paul Craft said the land was purchased from Grief Inc. in the 1990s and is currently divided into two areas zoned for residential development and institutional development. Craft said the stream in the area is already being protected.
Craft said that although the land is zoned for development, there are not, and have never been, plans to develop the land.
Olen said that while the wetlands make ideal science classrooms, it has also caught attention from national researchers.
“The U.S. Forest Service has studied the area and has discovered that the ash tree survival rate is 60 times greater in our Dempsey forest than in the 55 other sites they have studied in five different states,” Olen said. “This represents a genetic treasure that could lead to the survival of ash trees in North America. Dempsey and Hayes students are involved in this research as part of the Dempsey ecology project which I started two years ago.”
Craft said the board would put together a group and decide the best way to formally protect the wetlands. Craft said the board would vote on a formal proposal before the end of the year.
“We are committed to preserving the wetlands,” Craft said.
Student board member Abigail Jones said students consider the wetlands a unique and important place to further their education. Jones said she has taken classes that studied the wetlands and said they were among the best she’s ever had.