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Exploring the Estuarium

By Brianna Taggart, University of Minnesota Duluth

On May 9, the River Talks series concluded for the season at the Lake Superior Estuarium on Barker’s Island in Superior, Wisconsin. The presentation took a different turn than usual when it offered a tour of the new Estuarium. During “The Making of the Estuarium,” Deanna Erickson, education coordinator for the National Lake Superior Estuarine Research Reserve, described what went into renovating this building into the public science and interpretive learning center it is today.

The Estuarium is focused on telling stories and sharing information on the St. Louis River Estuary. According to Erickson, “An estuary is where two bodies of water with different chemical signatures meet and mix. And, the St. Louis River Estuary is one of the largest estuaries in the Great Lakes.”

Due to the importance of this estuary, Erickson incubated her exhibit plans for quite a while. “I knew for about four years before I started this that I wanted to create this exhibit hall,” she said.

She did not do this alone, however. She had the help of many people—some local and some from well-known companies. National Geographic Creative photographer David Bowman captured many of the images displayed throughout the building. A former graphic designer for Harvey Davidson, Sarah Congdon from the University of Wisconsin-Extension, did the layout for the panels. Along with these two, Adam Swanson, a local Twin Ports artist, painted a mural on the walls that frame the children’s area.

Erickson worked with Bowman to focus the photographs on people involved with the estuary environment.

“I got really enchanted by this idea of people telling stories of something and how that can convey information really well,” Erickson said. “I think that if we can bring in the human side of science, we can communicate that science better because people see others they can relate to.”

Because of Bowman and Erickson’s idea, pictures of people—young and old—interacting with the environment hang on the walls of the Estuarium.

Along with photographs, maps take a central focus. From maps hanging on the wall, to the interactive map in the center of the room, to the map of the entire estuary on the floor, they are found throughout and play a vital role in teaching about on-going research.

The interactive map pinpoints what research is being done in different areas of the estuary.

“This is really where we get to learn about all the great work being done here,” Erickson said.

This also includes a map that Henry Bayfield, a mapmaker who mapped most of the Western Great Lakes, drew in 1824. When compared to the modern map now, not a lot has changed since the 19th century.

“For 1824, he did a pretty good job,” Erickson said with a laugh.

While that interactive map is large, it is not as big as the map of the entire St. Louis River Estuary that makes that whole floor.

“This was my dream!” Erickson said.

According to Erickson, the exhibit contractors, Wilderness Graphics Inc., did this by placing the large sticker of the map on the floor and covering it with a clear layer to keep it protected.

To continue learning about what this estuary has to offer, the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve has a new boat called R2512. This is being used to take classes of children out onto the estuary and teach them about the environment around them. Visiting researchers and Reserve staff will also make use of the vessel to collect data.

According to Reserve Manager Erika Washburn, “We want to fill that gap of the education platform out on the water.”

River Talks is hosted by the Reserve and the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs. The series will be taking a break for summer.

 
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