Cameron Park At Center of Baylor Study

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    Kenna Lang conducts a photo comparison of the Proctor Springs area of Cameron Park.
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    Song Gao collects a sample from a tree while local T.V photographers shoot video.
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    Lang conducts research.
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    Baylor's research team meets and talks with a local print reporter.
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    Gao explains the Japanese Honeysuckle, which is in the background.
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June 8, 2006

From native Texas wildflowers to towering trees, Cameron Park in Waco encompasses hundreds of different vegetative species that thousands of area residents enjoy every year. But little is known about the environmental history of the 416-acre park. Starting this week, Baylor University researchers will kick off the first-ever comprehensive study of the park, analyzing the settlement patterns of the area and studying in-depth how the vegetative species have changed.

"In any type of planning, if you can understand where you're coming from, then you can better plan on where you are going," said Kenna Lang, a Baylor graduate student who is conducting the research. "If we can predict the direction a certain species is going in the park, we can target specific management strategies for that area."

While the primary purpose of the project is to provide Baylor researchers and Waco city officials the basis for improved park management strategies, the research will also provide two other key points.

First, the park's vegetative history will be meticulously detailed. So far little has been written on that subject and with the centennial anniversary of the park coming up, Lang said the research report also could be used to help raise the community's awareness on one of the largest city parks in the state.

"The information we find could be used to enhance public interpretation and we put in travel brochures for example," Lang said.

Second, the research will be the back-bone of a student manual. The "Manual on Ecology of Cameron Park" will illustrate the different tree species of the park and will give a basic background of the park's natural history. Research for the manual started last year.

"We are just consolidating all the information," said Dr. Susan Bratton, who is writing the book and is an environmental studies professor at Baylor. "It will just make it easier for students in a lab class to go into the park and know what they are looking at."

Financially supported by the C. Gus Glasscock, Jr. Endowed Fund for Excellence in Environmental Sciences, another part of the study will revolve around the overall impact the Japanese Honeysuckle, an exotic vine species, is having on the park. Baylor researchers believe the honeysuckle was intentionally brought to Waco in the 1960s. Since then, it has moved into the park and has "out-competed" many other native Texas plants and trees for sunlight, food, water and space. In some cases, the honeysuckle is strangling young tree-sap links.

"The honeysuckle does not have any natural predators in the area, so the problem is only getting worse," said Song Gao, a Baylor graduate student who is writing his thesis on the impact of the vine. "Most people just think it looks pretty, but don't realize that it's causing problems."

The research team has already pre-selected several areas of the park to study. They will collect samples, measure tree-diameters, document which areas certain vegetative species are located and use photo comparison to conduct the research. The team is particularly interested in why there has been a recent decline in the number of cottonwood and elm trees, but at the same time, a spike in the number of cedar trees within the park.

Contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, (254) 710-1964

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