If you start your hike at the Learning Center and go straight on the gravel road toward the Onion Bottom wetland, you’ll pass through the Holy Cow Swamp. This isn’t an official name of course, but the story of Mary Linton yelling “Holy cow!” as she unexpectedly plunged in its depths gets retold at Merry Lea every so often.
Mary Linton, a former Goshen College biology professor from 1989-2002, frequented Merry Lea’s wetlands and woods for class fieldwork and research projects. She largely conducted research on salamanders, trapping and tracking these species and studying how seasonal water levels affected populations’ movements. Thus, tromping through Merry Lea’s marshes and swamps with chest waders or muck boots were normal activities for Linton.
Historically, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) created waterfowl habitat by using dynamite to blast holes in low lying areas to be filled with rainwater. Decades ago, this practice was done at Merry Lea by DNR biologists. And during a routine survey of a brush-filled wetland with students, Linton discovered one such hole. Wading through the swamp her footing suddenly dropped, and Linton exclaimed, “Holy cow!!” as she floundered her way to a splashing recovery.
Thus, this temporary wetland area north of the Learning Center was dubbed the infamous Holy Cow Swamp.
It is a story that elicits at least a sly smile if not laughs from Merry Lea staff who heard it from Linton herself. But those full smiles and joyful expressions only scratch the surface for those who learned from, worked with, laughed with, taught with or were friends with Linton.
Mary Linton died June 13, 2021 at 66 years old, and in homage to her legacy, Merry Lea is officially renaming the Holy Cow Swamp to the Linton Swamp.
Linton established a bridge between Goshen College and Merry Lea that still exists today. When Linton was hired at Goshen College, she independently took the initiative to connect with Merry Lea. Not only was she the college’s first female biology professor, but also was the first to regularly conduct classes and fieldwork at Merry Lea. Her wetland ecological interests coincided well with what the nature preserve provided.
Dave Miller overlapped with Linton as Merry Lea program director, where he supervised the Lindsey Fellowship research program. This fellowship historically funded individuals who worked with education programs at Merry Lea. However, Miller and Merry Lea staff redefined the position to help fund a Goshen College biology faculty member to conduct ecological research at the preserve in addition to teaching on campus. They offered the position to Linton, who became the first Lindsey Fellow as it appears today. Goshen College Biology Professors Ryan Sensenig and Andy Ammons are current Lindsey Fellows.
Miller credits Linton as a liaison spanning the physical distance between Merry Lea and the college, including the challenges that distance bred. “She was well respected on campus, and I know her work here was important as a step along the way” in developing relationships and furthering Merry Lea’s research and collegiate programs.
Because of her initiative, she became a conduit for immersing undergraduate students in Merry Lea’s habitats to appreciate the intrinsic value of nature. “She set up the model of connecting students in an academic field setting at Merry Lea. She set the tone,” said Bill Minter, Merry Lea’s land manager.