Down the Road: Lakeside Lab

This week we're heading down the road to the Iowa Great Lakes, a region with the state's deepest, largest and longest natural lakes.It's also home to one of the oldest biological field stations in the United States, a place where nature and its resources have been the center of attention for more than a hundred years.There are a lot of strange noises you can hear at the Lakeside Lab on the edge of West Lake Okoboji. All of them are part of a process to make sure the water you drink, cook, bathe and play in is safe. "A thousand samples in a month or two, yea," said Dennis Heimdal of the State Hygienic Lab.They can even check for clarity. "Suspended sediments, you know, algae, anything that would be suspended in the water will get filtered out on the filter that I have," said Heimdal. But this state-run hygienic lab is just one small part of the 140 acre Lakeside Laboratory, a research and educational facility that dates back to 1909, thanks largely to the efforts of Thomas Macbride, an early president of the University of Iowa, geologist, botanist and zoologist who explored the area. "And with the diversity of the landscape formations, so many kinds of habitat, lakes, wetlands, ponds, prairie, and woodlands all clustered together, he thought this would be a perfect place to establish a biological field station," said Environmental Education Coordinator Jane Shuttleworth. The earliest students camped at the site and even ate the fish they studied. In later years, cabins and other facilities were built, including hand-chiseled, stone classrooms constructed during the depression by members of the Civilian Conservation Corp. In fact, 11 of the labs buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. College students from across the country and the world come here to study nature during one of three summer sessions. There are camps for kids and an innovative, three year program for teachers across northwest Iowa on how to integrate nature into a classroom of young children. "At that age children don't know how to read yet. So they're developing their sense of wonder, question asking and nature is perfect for that," said Shuttleworth. While the lab is operated by the state, its educational programs and scholarships are funded by a group called "Friends of Lakeside Lab." And in 1998 private funding also helped construct the first building on campus for year-round use.