A unique ecosystem on the Missouri Southern State University campus is getting some much needed TLC thanks to a student-led project.

Restoring a 300-meter walking trail near the Biology Pond is the focus of Jeremiah Cline’s service-learning project through the Biology Department.

“The trail is pretty run down,” says Cline, a junior biology major. “I found it my freshman year when I was walking around campus with my roommate at the time. It was overgrown, but not as much as (it is now).”

The trail dates back to at least the 1970s. The pond was formerly an Olympic-sized swimming pool at the former Mission Hills Estate before it was torn out in 1972. The trail winds through the natural habitat, which includes a spring-fed swamp.

Over time, the trail has become congested with invasive species, washed out in places and blocked by downed trees.

When Cline suggested the project, his advisor, Dr. David Penning, wasn’t entirely sure how viable an undertaking it would actually be.

“Everyone wants to do something like this until they make first contact with the enemy and realize the gauntlet they’ve signed up for,” Penning says. “But it’s morphed into something way larger than either of us thought it was going to be.”

An online fundraiser has raised nearly a quarter of their $2,000 goal. The Biology Club has chipped in toward the effort, and several of Clines’ classmates have volunteered their time to help clear the trail. In addition, volunteer dates have been planned for Sept. 19, Oct. 10 and Nov. 17.

“My goal right now is removing at least three of the invasive species – winter creeper, Russian olive and Japanese honeysuckle,” says Cline. “I want to help the native plants grow, take back the trail and establish a good tread. I’d like to also put out picnic tables where students can study.”

The work comes naturally to Cline, who has completed two internships with the Department of Natural Resources and worked over the summer with the National Park Service doing habitat restoration at Wilson’s Creek near Republic, Mo.

“It’s rewarding to take a step back and know you’ve made a lasting impression on the ecosystem,” says Cline. “It’s something that’s always going to be there and will impact the aesthetic views, plant and animal health, and biodiversity.”

It’s a massive project, and one that Cline hopes to eventually hand off to future students to ensure the trail doesn’t become overgrown again.

For more information about the project and to contribute to the fundraiser, click here.