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A Natural Classroom

Shaw Wilderness Park and Williams Lake:
A Natural Classroom

The Williams Lake Conservation Company (WLCC) has been involved with the health and preservation of Williams Lake and its watershed since 1968. Today, we continue to see university students, supervised by some of our WLCC academics, studying, testing, researching and contributing their findings to our continuing efforts to protect the lake and its watershed. 

Environmental engineering students testing lake water leaking under the Williams Lake dam into Lawson’s Creek, Shaw Wilderness Park, November 2021.

We are engaged in various projects with students and volunteers using the lake and the park as a “natural classroom.” These studies and activities deepen our understanding of how best to protect and enhance Williams Lake and its watershed. This fall was especially busy in the park with three interesting projects affiliated with WLCC.

How fast and how much?

One of WLCC’s dedicated and long-serving directors, Dr. Melanie Dobson of Dalhousie’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has been collecting and recording information on lake levels and water quality in Williams Lake for many years. Her environmental engineering students use the park as their real-time-lab to test the flow, turbidity and quality of the lake water leaking under the Williams Lake dam in the Shaw Wilderness Park.

What Lives in the Lake?

Students collect lots of live samples from Williams Lake at the dam in the park, November 2021.

Dr. Linda Campbell of St. Mary’s Dynamic Environmental and Ecosystem Health Research group had students in her Environmental Science Aquatic class collect a variety of samples from Williams Lake. Dr. Campbell says students from her “ENVS 3450 had a successful field day at Williams Lake. Aquatic environment samples were collected for ID and analyses in lab later in semester! The class did lots of looking and sampling! Found dragonfly larvae, water striders, snails, leeches, plankton, glimpsed mussels, got water samples and data.” Experiential learning in a natural classroom in the park.

Elizabeth Carr, master’s candidate in Dalhousie’s School of Architecture and Planning at the community access area into Williams Lake, November 2021.

Qualitative and quantitative research is fundamental to how we continue to support Williams Lake and its watershed.  But a critical question is how do people access and use these wild, urban parks and lakes.  A long-term member and supporter of WLCC, Dr. Patrica Manuel of Dalhousie School of Architecture and Planning, is currently supervising a master’s degree candidate’s project comparing the notion of “sustainable and equitable accessibility” in urban parks in HRM. Elizabeth Carr is using the Shaw Wilderness Park as one of the three HRM parks included in this unique study.  Results from Carr’s research will be provided to HRM planners.

Williams Lake and the Shaw Wilderness Park are a natural recreational playground for HRM.  The park and the lake also play an important academic role in the education of our next generation of environmentalists who will care for our lake, park and planet.

A Natural Classroom