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Fifty years after biology professor James H. Barrow founded Hiram College's Field Station, his former student Jim Metzinger has taken over research and wildlife rehabilitation at the facility near campus.
As director, Metzinger has grown the bird rehabilitation program and allowed students of all majors to engage in research projects at the 550-acre facility.
"I always want to include everyone," Metzinger said. "A lot of previous directors wanted to keep it to the biology students. For me, it's about working with all the students."
Over time, the biggest change at the Field Station "has been in the animal collection and the way they're housed and cared for."
"Back then, most of what we had were part of an exotic collection of animals that James H. Barrow, the prof and founder of the Field Station, thought would be good to have for students to observe," Metzinger said. Rhea, deer, fox and pheasant were among the animals roaming the grounds.
But Metzinger has put a focus on bird rehabilitation. The Field Station has a rehabilitation facility with incubators and duck docks and a newly built raptor flight cage to ready birds for release back into the wild.
"We do bird rehabilitation for the state of Ohio," Metzinger said. "We have about 30 birds that we're currently rehabbing."
One of the most unique things about the Field Station is that college students -- biology and art majors alike -- get hands-on experience working in wildlife rehabilitation.
"We haven't had loons in years, but we just got two in within a week of each other," said Halle Hovance, a nursing major who works in the rehab program. "One was found in a train yard. They're severely underweight. They can't fly off land. They have to have about 100 feet of water to use as a runway."
The large diving birds were rescued and transferred to the Field Station from Penitentiary Glen Reservation and Medina Raptor Center "because we built facility specifically designed for diving birds," Metzinger said.
In a partnership with the Akron Zoo, they also have the opportunity to care for two of the world's most endangered waterfowl from southeast Asia and Madagascar.
"We work with two endangered species of duck," Metzinger said. "The students take care of them and genetics and animal behavior projects evolved from those animals being on our property."
Metzinger graduated from Hiram College in 1988 with a degree in biology. He worked for 15 years at SeaWorld in Aurora and seven years at the Akron Zoo.
"My interest was always in animals and animal care," he said. "I went to SeaWorld for 15 years. I was the curator of birds and helped with the killer whales and sharks."
The Field Station has always been a special place to be, he said.
"Even when I was working at SeaWorld I would come here and walk the trails. It has always been a neat place to come."
The vision for the Field Station came to life in 1967 when Barrow purchased a 75-acre diary farm and converted it into a "giant outdoor classroom."
"Living out here I got to know him really well because he was out here every day. He was quite the icon."
The Frohring Lab and Visitor Center features exhibits of native Ohio animals, from soft shell turtles to bullfrogs.
"This itself became an immersion of the outside world," Metzinger said. "It's utilized by outside groups and local school districts as an indoor classroom."
One of Metzinger's goals is to get more students and community members involved at the Field Station.
"It's almost like a nature preserve," he said. "We have the largest beech-maple forest in Ohio. It's a neat thing because you have to go pretty far to see that, but most people don't know that's here. There's lots of hidden gems like that on our property."
On Friday, the community celebrated the 50th anniversary with speakers, live music and star gazing.