Many of the people first in line Saturday to get a tour of four Fermilab natural areas not usually open to the public already knew plenty about the cultural amenities the high-energy physics lab has to offer. There are the concerts, the chamber music, the art gallery and the annual Tom Skilling tornado talk.
But areas like Nepese Marsh, Big Woods North, Indian Creek Woods and the Main Ring Savanna are usually visible only to physicists and others working at the lab, not even to its most ardent supporters or frequent visitors.
"It's the first time some of these areas are being shown to the public -- and what a treat," said Carmel Mullally-Powers of St. Charles.
Mullally-Powers has attended concerts and lectures in the lab's Wilson Hall and said she was thrilled Saturday to see the more natural side of the 10-square mile area. She hopped the first bus from Kuhn Barn and listened as Dave Shemanske of Fermilab's roads and grounds department explained the history of Nepese Marsh.
The marsh, now a healthy habitat for turtles, eagles and salamanders in an area on the lab's East side known as Fermilab Village, began as a sewage lagoon, Shemanske said. It served an area originally built as a 100-home subdivision in the 1960s and known as West Field, then the village of Weston.
The sewage lagoon remained for several years after Fermilab was built in 1967. But in 1988, a year with a hot, dry summer similar to this one, Shemanske said, it was drained, then reshaped into a wetland.
Groups of visitors to the first Discovery Day event hosted by Fermilab Natural Areas viewed the results while strolling along the grassy edge of the tree-lined marsh.
"I knew there were a couple natural areas here, but this is the first time I've really gotten a chance to take a look at them," said Mark Crump of Campton Township.
Discovery Day visitors, who mainly came in pairs equipped with cameras, binoculars, water bottles and bug spray, scanned the marsh's cattails looking for muskrats, butterflies and a variety of birds.
Nepese Marsh was only the first stop on a four-part tour that also gave visitors glimpses of historic woods, towering oaks, migratory birds, wetland mitigation projects and prairie restoration inside Fermilab's main ring.