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Rebuilding the Vegetative History of Finzel’s One Fine Fen

Rebuilding the Vegetative History of Finzel’s One Fine Fen
Frostburg State University graduate student Jade Llewellyn of LaVale, left, uses a cushion hammer to take core samples from Cranberry Swamp in Finzel with the help of Dr. Phillip Allen, associate professor of geography. The equipment is part of FSU’s new Geochemistry Laboratory.

A Frostburg State University graduate student is digging deep into the history of Cranberry Swamp in Finzel.

Hidden behind a picturesque mountain valley in Garrett County is a muck with some mystery. This swamp could reveal the story of what plants flourished centuries ago in this unique terrain.

“Finzel is a frost pocket,” explains FSU graduate student Jade Llewellyn of LaVale. “It sits in the valley between two ridges: the Big Savage Mountain and Little Savage Mountain.”

That frost pocket creates an area with temperatures more akin to parts of Canada than the Appalachian Mountains, which is why Llewellyn wanted to find out more about this swamp. She’s using equipment for FSU’s new Geochemistry Laboratory as part of her research to do a paleoecological reconstruction, which could tell her what plants once grew here.

“The 1,000-year-old history of it, I don't think anyone has looked into it to do what we’re trying to do out here,” Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn is joined by Dr. Phil Allen, associate professor of geography, in the field to collect sediment samples that will be used to extract pollen in a laboratory. In addition, radiocarbon data will be used to rebuild the fen’s history.

“The pollen describes the vegetation,” Allen said. “Once you see vegetation changing, there has to be a reason for it changing – whether that’s climatic or human input. We’re trying to see how it’s changed and trying to see if there’s any signal as to why it’s changed.”

Llewellyn is earning her master’s degree in applied ecology and conservation through collaboration with both the Biology and Geography departments thanks to this project. Dr. David Putoff, associate professor of biology, also serves as one of Llewellyn’s advisors.

In the field, Llewellyn is collecting those 1,000-year-old organic samples by using a powerful cushion hammer along with a coring system that has to be hand cranked to remove the pipes from the ground.

“We’re using a system called a Stitz Closed Chamber Piston Core, which means we can push this down to whatever depth we want and then open it and collect samples so there’s no contamination,” Allen said.

The equipment used by Llewellyn is just a sampling of what was obtained through a $100,000 federal Appalachian Regional Commission grant used to establish the Geochemistry Laboratory at FSU, with an additional $100,000 in matching FSU funds. The grant application was co-authored by Allen and Dr. Robert Larivee, professor of chemistry.

“Before we could do geochemistry, we had to get samples, so part of that was this coring system,” Allen explained. The laboratory is expected to be fully operational by fall 2016.

Once the pollen samples are processed and Llewellyn completes her study, her findings are expected to help The Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages the fen, to create special management plans for the swamp. Llewellyn doesn’t mind getting stuck in the mud for the sake of research.

“I actually like being out here muddy and here using the drill, to get it down into the soil and extract out the sediment cores,” Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn, who also earned her undergraduate degree from FSU and completed an internship with the U.S. Geological Survey, values the hands-on education she received here.

“You really do get the hands-on learning,” she said. “It relates directly to what you would be doing in a job, in the field.”

This hands-on experience coupled with a new Geochemistry Laboratory will become valuable for creating jobs for students in Western Maryland.

“If we train our students, many of whom want to stay in this area, at least they have got the skills for the future to try and preserve the kind of environment we have,” Allen said.

For information about FSU’s Geochemistry Laboratory, contact Allen at 301-687-4891 or Larivee at 301-687-4091.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

- Charles Schelle

For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589