Dr. Bill Harman, Director of the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., walks along the station's dock on Otsego Lake while an undergraduate parasitology class prepares to catch fish specimens on May 22, 2015. The Biological Field Station has grown to encompass 2,600 acres supporting laboratories, classrooms, offices, equipment and conserved land.
by Will Parson
July 28, 2015
The calm, mirror-like surface of Otsego Lake is the subject of history and legend. Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper, the author describes the lake in his work The Deerslayer as “a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere compressed into a setting of hills and woods.” The narrow, finger-like lake runs nine miles from north to south, coming to a point at Cooperstown, New York, where it marks the start of the Susquehanna River. Hop into a boat and follow the current, and a winding, 464-mile journey downriver will eventually drop you in the Chesapeake Bay. At first glance, the lake’s tranquil surface may seem humble beginnings for a mighty river that churns billions of gallons of fresh water into the nation’s largest estuary each day. But Otsego is a flurry of activity, home to a rich diversity of critters, habitats and ecosystems.
Alongside the shores of Otsego Lake sits the Biological Field Station, a laboratory that serves the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta, where researchers work year-round to study and preserve the lake. In 1967, the field station began as a 365-acre donation from the Clark Family Foundation. Now, the field station’s facilities— which include the main laboratory, a farm and boathouse, and various research sites and conserved lands—span more than 2,600 acres. Director Bill Harman, a professor of biology, has led the Biological Field Station for the entirety of its more than 40 year existence. As resident Otsego expert, Harman oversees the monitoring, research, training, workshops and field trips at the field station’s facilities.
John Montemarano, a sophomore biology major, casts a line on Otsego Lake while trying to catch fish with his classmates for a parasitology lab.
Hands-on learning opportunities are abundant across the waters, marshes and forests surrounding Otsego Lake. Field trips, summer internships and general research bring kindergarteners through post-graduates to the field station’s facilities. Students of SUNY Oneonta’s Master of Lake Management program—the first such program in North America—complete their studies at the Biological Field Station, sampling, monitoring and researching the waters of Otsego and other nearby lakes. Local residents and other visitors are also welcome to explore and can participate in lake monitoring alongside the field station’s scientists.
Bill Harman, who founded the Biological Field Station in 1968 and remains its Director, poses at the field station’s Thayer Boathouse overlooking Otsego Lake. The Biological Field Station was recently first in the country to offer a Master of Science degree in Lake Management.
Though located far from the Chesapeake Bay itself, Otsego Lake suffers from many of the same issues threatening the estuary, like nutrient pollution and a rise in invasive species. Zebra mussels and purple loosestrife—two infamous invasive species plaguing the watershed—have overtaken much of the lake and surrounding lands. Once a rich source of shad, herring and eels, downstream dams have blocked many of these fish from migrating to the lake. But Harman and his colleagues don’t see Otsego as a closed system. As they collect their data and monitor the lake, they are actively seeking solutions that could be applied across the region.
Harman holds a flip-flop found in Otsego Lake that has been covered with invasive zebra mussels in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015. The invasive mussel will establish itself on any hard submerged surface and exclude other species.
Preserved cisco specimens rest inside a jar at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015. Cisco were once a dominant industry on the lake.
Nicole Pedisich, a senior biology major, retrieves largemouth bass from Moe Pond while seining with Ben Casscles, bottom right, a senior studying fisheries and aquaculture, and David Busby, a junior environmental science major, at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015.
Casscles, left, and Busby pump the stomach contents of a largemouth bass collected from Moe Pond. The team observed this individual had eaten mostly macroinvertebrates.
Harman walks along a closed boardwalk at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary. The Biological Field Station has had to close access to the swamp due to a lack of funds for maintenance.
Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary in Cooperstown, N.Y., offers five acres of conserved wetlands. The land was donated by Tom Goodyear, who also donated farmland for the site of the nearby Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown.
A snapping turtle rests just below the surface at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary.
A leaf-eating beetle crawls on a heavily-devoured purple loosestrife plant at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary. The non-native leaf beetle was successfully introduced to combat the invasive purple loosestrife, which has in turn experienced a severely diminished presence at Goodyear Swamp.
Biology seniors Jill Darpino, left, and Genna Schlicht, right, eat lunch with Assistant Professor Florian Reyda during a break from their parasitology field course at the Biological Field Station’s Upland Interpretive Center at Thayer Farm.
A pair of taxidermied passenger pigeons reside at Thayer Farm. Many specimens owned by SUNY Oneonta decorate the Biological Field Station’s facilities.
A student extracts a parasite from a fish specimen caught earlier in the day on Otsego Lake.
Kristen Dispensa, a senior biology major, examines a dissected fish specimen with Assistant Professor Florian Reyda inside the Thayer Farm's Hop House Parasitology and Entomology Laboratory.
A disease-resistant Princeton elm tree, right, grows at the edge of Thayer Farm, which is actively farmed and studied. Thayer Farm's 256 acres were donated to the Biological Field Station by Rufus Thayer, a descendant of William Thayer, who established the farm around the start of the 1800s.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith
About Will Parson - Will produces digital stories for the Chesapeake Bay Program. He studied ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He reported on water and the environment as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and worked at newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.