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Henry Westly ’21 is Digging into Soil Health at Big Hill Park

Henry Westly ’21 is an environmental geology major, working with Jim Rougvie as his thesis advisor. His research concerns soil degradation due to agricultural pratices at Big Hill Park. 

Big Hill Park in Beloit Wisconsin is made up of two parcels. The first piece has been a park since the 1920’s with some remnant areas appearing to have the vegetation that it did before European settlement. The second piece was added in 1997, after having been used for agriculture as the Kopplin farm since at least the 1930’s. There is an ongoing restoration effort by the Welty Environmental Center to return the Kopplin farm section of the park to the vegetation it had while under Ho-Chunk management. There are questions about the current health of the soil in the Kopplin farm section that need to be answered in order to bring the Kopplin section from its current “old field” condition back to oak savannah. This study seeks to figure out the current condition of the soil in order to aid with the restoration efforts.

Restoration projects can serve to revive the health of the soil. Agriculture can lead to soil erosion, nutrient depletion, compaction, and general decline in soil health. Data on soil characteristics that can be used to gauge the health such as: compaction, texture, color, soil profile, depth of soil, organic matter, and nutrient levels will be collected. Some of these characteristics will be spatially analyzed to show land use change, and current condition of soils in different areas. Samples will be taken from the original Big Hill Park remnants and compared to the Kopplin section to see if and/or how degraded the Kopplin section is. This information will provide a benchmark to evaluate the success of the restoration effort on soil as well as guide the restoration effort initially. There will also be an education component as findings of this study can be shared with the public to learn about soils and the benefits of restoration projects.

March 30, 2021

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