FLORENCE, S.C. -- Francis Marion University will add a freshwater ecology center to the growing list of its programs.
This addition, which is near the intersection of I-95 and S.C. 327 (north of the main campus), will house a freshwater ecology lab and a conference center that will sit on a 20-acre spring-fed lake. The university hopes to have the construction of the two facilities finished by January of 2021 if it receives funding and begins construction this fall.
The project was enabled by a 146-acre land donation from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation.
With the development of the freshwater ecology center, the FMU biology department will research freshwater fisheries and water quality in the Pee Dee region.
FMU President Fred Carter said the research on water quality will be beneficial to the area, especially after the storms that affected the water equality.
“Freshwater research in monitoring the water equality in the region and researching to preserve the water equality is absolutely indispensable for all of us across the Pee Dee region,” Carter said.
One possibility for partnerships with the center would be working with the state Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, Carter said.
“I would anticipate that DNR would come out and be a partner out here with us and would hope that DHEC would work with us, and again DHEC has principal responsibility for water quality across the state, so this would be a major resource that they would use with us,” Carter said.
In addition to the lake, Backwater Swamp is on the property, and that will allow biology department multiple opportunities, Carter said.
“They love the idea of having land that includes, quite honestly, a changeable swamp area over time for field trips, for a nature trail, other kinds of things that allow their biology students and other university students to be in touch with the change in nature of a true swamp and a true area in the Pee Dee that reflects a lot of the seasonal changes,” Carter said.
Eventually, the university plans to develop a recreational area for the public to access the lake, Carter said.
Upon completion of the freshwater ecology center, there are multiple classes, such as entomology, invertebrate zoology, herpetology and ecology classes, in the biology department that will be able to do field work at the center, said Jeff Steinmetz, an associate professor of biology.
Steinmetz said some of the field work would consist of teaching students how to do fisheries research, doing water sampling in the lake. He said there could be natural history research and long-term biodiversity monitoring at the center.
“I think it is a great opportunity for our students, and you know, we are still trying to work out all that will happen out there,” Steinmetz said.
The university is still in the development process for the freshwater ecology center. Carter said the university is exploring the possibility for a graduate degree in environmental sciences, as well as a concentration in it for the biology degree.
In addition to the freshwater ecology center, there will also be a conference center for university and public use. The new conference center will be twice the size of The Cottage, the university’s conference site on the main campus.