Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park

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The Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park is located in eastern Tennessee on the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR). The ORR is a unique and irreplaceable resource for DOE in addressing its technology and national science missions.

The Research Park is an Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) research facility that provides over 8,000 ha (20,000 acres) of ORR protected land for research and education, especially in the environmental sciences. Lying in the heart of the eastern deciduous forest ecoregion, the Research Park contains wetlands, prairies, streams, reservoirs, and other uncommon habitats in addition to upland mixed forests. Scientists working on the Research Park enjoy its many unique advantages, including a large information base and close proximity to educational institutions. They also have access to many on-site resources, such as the services of environmental scientists and the field and laboratory facilities at ORNL.

Public nature walks in the Research Park are led each year by local experts. These activities highlight the special features of the area, including flowers, birds, streams, and natural communities. Schedules of walks are announced in the local media and posted on this web site.

The Oak Ridge park is one in a network of seven DOE National Environmental Research Parks. It was designated an international biosphere reserve in 1989 as one of the six units of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve. It is also a Tennessee Wildlife Management Area and part of the Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB) Cooperative.

Native plants are being used in landscaping at ORNL as a major focal point of the Sustainable Campus Initiative. Native plants are better adapted to local environmental conditions and using them highlights their beauty, educates staff and guests about them, provides a unique look for ORNL, and supports many native animals. The pond on ORNL's East Campus, for example, has been converted into a more natural environment. The addition of aquatic and shore plants, native fish, and turtles has enhanced the area. A new walkway around the pond makes it an inviting place for staff to exercise while enjoying the more natural habitat.

ORNL Lab director Thom Mason (left) recently joined ORNL staff members,
including Kelly Roy, in sampling fish in Bear Creek.

(Photo by J. K. Richards)


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The Oak Ridge Research Park is a giant outdoor scientific laboratory. It contains large blocks of forest and diverse vegetational communities that offer unparalleled resources for ecosystem-level and large-scale research. Major national and international collaborative research initiatives use it to address issues such as multiple stress interactions, biodiversity, sustainable development, tropospheric air quality, global climate change, innovative power conductors, solar radiation monitoring, ecological recovery, and monitoring and remediation.

Field sites at the Research Park provide maintenance and support facilities that permit sophisticated and well-instrumented environmental experiments. These facilities include elaborate monitoring systems that enable users to precisely and accurately measure environmental factors for extended periods of time. Because the park is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, public access is restricted, and experimental sites and associated equipment are, therefore, not disturbed.

National recognition of the value of the Research Park has led to its use as a component of both regional- and continental-scale research projects. Various Research Park sites offer opportunities for aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem analyses of topics such as biogeochemical cycling of pollutants resulting from energy production, landscape alterations, ecosystem restoration, wetlands mitigation, and forest and wildlife management. The Research Park is a particularly valuable area for addressing such important issues. One example is the Walker Branch Watershed, a site of long-term research on issues such as forest and stream ecology, biogeochemistry, and hydrology, with particular emphasis now on research related to climate change.

Management of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the southeastern United States in the future will require a much better understanding of the interactions between expected anthropogenic stresses and climate changes. The Research Park provides sites for experimental studies and monitoring activities to develop that understanding by addressing the following topics for the eastern deciduous forest:

Each year the Research Park hosts numerous visitors from many different institutions who use its facilities to study many of these topics. Over the past 5 years the Research Park has attracted more than 1500 users from ORNL and over 200 high schools, colleges, universities, industries, and state and federal agencies. The 351 users during FY 2011 represented nearly 45 organizations, including educational institutions, state and federal agencies, and others.


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ORNL has a long history of interactions with academia. Currently ORNL has educational programs in place for all scientific disciplines and for all levels in the educational continuum from pre-college through postgraduate.

The Ecological and Physical Sciences Study Center at ORNL uses facilities, including those of the Research Park, to offer an inquiry-based approach to learning math, physical science, and life science. Education is, thus, one of the missions of the ORR. For example, the Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Management Refuge Area, an almost 1,200 hectare (3,000 acre) conservation and wildlife management area of the Research Park, is used by educational institutions as an outdoor classroom to study topics ranging from characterization of bird habitats to impacts of invasive plants.

For additional information on the Research Park, contact

Neil Giffen
National Environmental Research Park
Building 4500N, MS 6340
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
P.O. Box 2008
Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6340
Telephone: 865-241-9421
FAX: 865-241-9080

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Last Updated: January 19, 2011