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Centenary College Leases Space at State Fish Hatchery to Take Learning Outdoors

By: Kelly Heyboer/The Star Ledger
10/07/2013, 01:13 PM

Hackettstown — After about five minutes in the classroom, Centenary College professor Lauren Bergey and her students were itching to get outside.

So, Bergey and her ecology class grabbed their gear and hiked into the woods to gather data for a project on plant dispersal patterns. A short walk from the classroom, they were in the middle of a lush forest. Nearby, dozens of ponds were brimming with fish.

This, Bergey said, is the way to teach science.

“No one can complain I’m tracking in mud or it smells like a salt marsh,” Bergey said, before her students trekked back through the woods to their lab.
In an unusual arrangement, Centenary College is leasing space at the state-owned Charles O. Hayford Fish Hatchery in Hackettstown to give students a chance to take their learning outside. The private college began offering classes this semester in a newly renovated building at the rarely seen hatchery, which produces 2 million fish a year and is closed to the public.

State officials and college administrators spent months negotiating a complex, five-year agreement that will allow hundreds of students from the nearby campus to access the 233-acre property along the Musconetcong River in Warren County. The students are taking classes ranging from ecology and marine biology to meteorology and astronomy.

“It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Lisa Barno, chief of fresh water fisheries at the state Department of Environmental Protection, who helped negotiate the agreement.

Centenary, a 2,500-student college, is one of a growing number of schools taking science classes and research projects off campus to get students closer to nature. Rutgers University has several off-campus research centers, including field stations at the Jersey Shore and in the Pinelands. Kean University in Union recently signed a 20-year deal with the state to lease the Regional Highlands Center at Mount Paul, a remote 41-acre property on a lake on the border of Morris and Passaic counties.

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1 / 7Centenary College Students Using Charles O. Hayford State Fish Hatchery Grounds As Environmental Center
In a wooded area of the hatchery, senior Margaret Joy stands next to a pine tree while working on a project to plot the locations of the trees to see how they are dispersed in their locations. In an unusual arrangement, Centenary College is leasing part of the state-owned Charles O. Hayford State Fish Hatchery in Hackettstown as the private school's new environmental center. Students are taking classes at the hatchery -- which produces more than 2 million fish a year -- on the banks of the Musconetcong River. We can go along as students in an Ecology class is doing a project on the Muscenetcong River where they are determining the distribution patterns of plant species. . Tuesday September 24, 2013. Hackettstown, NJ, USA. Photos by Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger
For Centenary College, offering classes at the nearby fish hatchery was an unorthodox, but obvious, choice. Students have served as interns and volunteers on the property for years.
The 101-year-old Hayford State Fish Hatchery, also known as the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery, is funded by fees for state fishing licenses. Its seven employees help raise 15 species of fish, including pike, trout and bass, in open ponds and other facilities. The 2 million fish are distributed around the state to stock fishing areas and repopulate recently dredged lakes and ponds each year. The hatchery’s gambusia, or mosquitofish, are also distributed around the state to combat mosquitoes.

Centenary College took over a vacant building at the hatchery that was once a machine shop. The school will pay $68,410 to the state over five years to rent the space, with an option to renew the agreement for another five years, according to the lease. But the rent payments will be offset by the improvements the school makes to the building.

Before classes started this fall, the college spent about $75,000 renovating the space to create classrooms and labs to serve as its new environmental center, school officials said. Most students walk to the hatchery for classes from Centenary’s main campus, which is less than a mile away.

Though courses have just begun, students have already used the property to study Canada Geese nesting behavior, identify species of plants and animals for biodiversity projects and do a research project on parasite transmission between snails, fish and birds, said Bergey, the biology professor who helped coordinate the move to the hatchery.

Students are also developing a tour so the hatchery, which is closed to the public to protect the fish, might eventually be open for limited visits, Bergey said.

“This is an important place for the state of New Jersey,” said Scott Catton, 22, a senior environmental science major from Blairstown and one of the students putting together the tour. “There are millions of fish here.”

Other students enrolled in classes at the site said they are grateful for the opportunity to get out of the classroom and get their hands dirty.

“In this class, it seems like we’re always getting outside. I like it,” said Amira Guerrero, 21, a senior biology and equine studies major from Fort Lee.