The New LSSU Center for Freshwater Research and Education (Sault Ste. Marie) Offers Hand-On Great Lakes Learning
Sault Ste. Marie is not only one of Michigan’s oldest cities but it is also one of the bet vacation spots in the Upper Peninsula. With a wide range of restaurants, shops, museums and attractions, outdoor recreation opportunities, and of course the Soo Locks, it has something for everyone. One of the newest family-friendly stops in town is the LSSU Center for Freshwater Research and Education, home to a visitors center that offers hands-on learning about our beloved Great Lakes.
The $14 million dollar Richard and Theresa Barch Center for Freshwater Research and Education is the culmination of many years of planning and includes teaching labs for LSSU students, administrative offices, and offices for partner organizations like NOAA in addition to the hands-on display areas that are open to the public. The public welcome center is currently open Thursday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Sunday 12-4). We had a chance to walk through this great new addition to the Sault Ste. Marie waterfront and below you’ll find a look at what you’ll see when you visit.
The highlight of any visit is the sturgeon touch tank. Two lake sturgeon reside here and visitors can reach their hands into water to touch these “living fossils.” Lake sturgeon can live for over 100 years and grow up to lengths of seven feet. Signs by the tank give more details about lake sturgeon, as well as ongoing preservation projects.
The west wall of the discovery center has tons of facts about the Great Lakes watershed and some microscopes where you can view small organisms that call Michigan waters home.
Near the large window that looks out towards Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is an exhibit showing the damages plastics and other pollutants do to the Great Lakes watershed while providing some ideas of small things we can do that make a big difference.
The discovery center also has some sea lampreys in a tank, letting visitors see what one of the invasive species damaging our Great Lakes waters looks like. These parasites attach to fish and can have a devastating effect on commercial fishing if not kept in check.
One other exhibit that I found incredibly interesting was a “know where your food comes from” sign using fish sandwiches as an example and showing how fresh local caught fish is going to both taste better and put less strain on the environment.
Finally, let’s not forget about the outdoor area. The St. Mary’s River is a great place to watch freighter traffic, and it looks like in coming years the CFRE will have a beautiful outdoor area set up. When we visited, the Algocanada freighter was docked on the opposite side of the river, as efforts were underway to clean up a gear oil spill at the Algoma Steel plant.
This is an excellent place for the whole family to learn about our Michigan waters, and maybe leave with a new appreciation for how complex the ecosystem is. The sturgeon touch tank was definitely a highlight for us as seeing one of these fish in person is rare enough, but being able to touch one is a pretty fun experience!