First draft of Nuangola Bog piece. Will run next Sunday in Citizens’ Voice, Scranton Times-Tribune and Hazleton Standard-Speaker.
By Bob Quarteroni
The description on Wilkes University’s website is terse and to the point:
“Nuangola bog is a scrub-shrub wetland that occupies approximately ten acres along the southern end of Lake Nuangola, in northern Luzerne County. The parcel is owned by Wilkes University, and is overseen by the Nature Conservancy and residents of Nuangola Borough.”
But the bog is much more. It’s a teaching laboratory, a site for some important real-world research and, above all, a fascinating natural environment teeming with life, common and strange. And all available to everyone thanks to a convenient location and a wooden boardwalk spanning the preserve.
Dr. Kenneth Klemow, professor of biology at Wilkes University, uses the bog as a living laboratory.
He notes that the bog’s unique vegetation arose after the last glacier covered the area thousands of years ago.
“Because we have peat moss in the bog, the water chemistry has changed, making it more acidic and hurting some bacteria’s ability to decompose vegetation,” Klemow says. “As a result, the nutrient dynamic in the bog is different from many other wetlands. With low nutrient conditions you get a special vegetation.”
Indeed. Carnivorous pitcher plants and sundew, floating mats of leatherleaf, swamp loosestrife, wild arum, tearthumbs, spirea, 13 species of sphagnum moss, spatterdock and cranberry are just a fraction of the staggering variety of plants to be found.
Animals seen include black bear, snapping turtle, eastern hognose, black rat and northern copperhead snakes.
It’s a slightly squishy Garden of Eden for many, many plants.
And that makes it perfect as a teaching tool.
“I like to use it as an outdoor lab simply to compare and contrast the types of vegetation you see in bogs with what you’d find in other kinds of wetlands and uplands conditions,” he says.
And being hands-on, it makes the learning far more dynamic, said Laura Solomon, a senior biology major at Wilkes, who describes herself as an “avid field tripper in my spare time.”
“When I came here with Dr. Klemow’s field botany course he had us finding and identifying plants. It really makes a plant stick in your memory when you’re forced to sit and closely inspect it first-hand, as opposed to looking at pictures in a book or seeing a specimen that’s already mounted.”
The bog isn’t just teaching students botany, it’s also teaching researchers about earth’s climate and may, in fact, be revealing some new – and intriguing – scientific facts.
Dr. Matt Finkenbinder, professor of geology at Wilkes, has been doing research on sediments in bogs.
He said he’s teaching a course called paleoclimatology and uses the bog to collect sediment core samples.
“Students learn how to do a paleoclimate reconstruction to understand what the environment and climate was like before instrumental records,” said.
“Accordingly, we cored about 12 meters of sediment – all the way down into the glacial sediment. We are trying to find the timing of ice sheet retreat from northeast Pennsylvania. Our preliminary findings are that it was about 15,500 years that the glacier retreated off the lake.”
What’s very interesting about that is that it’s thousands of years off what some other scientists have found.
Finkenbinder explains that there are two different methods geologists use to measure ice sheet retreats.
“One looks at boulders and one uses lakes,” he said. “The boulder method yields data about 10,000 years older than the lake method so there’s this huge, huge discrepancy.
“So there’s a vigorous debate in the literature and we’re – I’m working with a colleague from England — trying to obtain solid local data.
“We sampled boulders at Nescopeck and some other places, so we’re trying to utilize both methods in the same general area. Surprisingly, using this dual method has not been done that often.”
Finkenbinder said they haven’t published their findings yet but have given a presentation.
Science aside, the bog is also a wonderful place for simple natural appreciation and relaxation. The boardwalk wends through the bog which, oddly, seems to have very few biting insects, at least on the three occasions I’ve been there.
Wandering the boardwalk, you are surrounded by such incredibly lush growth you might think you’re in a rain forest, not a northern bog. It’s a visit well worth the short trip.
The bog is open to the public. To reach it, take the Nuangola Exit off I-81. Make a right onto Van Avenue and, after about 4/10ths of a mile, bear left on Lance Street for a short distance, until you bear left again onto Nuangola Avenue.
The bog entrance is straight ahead. Do not go down the small hill to the very beginning of the boardwalk because the homeowner told me you will get ticketed. There is plenty of room for parking on the left just before the dip.