U plans northern Minn. research hub

The center will be used for climate change research.

Vanessa Nyarko

Between Fall Lake and Browns Lake near the northern Minnesota town of Ely, there’s a tract of pristine wilderness formerly owned by a University of Minnesota alum and former Chicago lawyer.

The family of the late Frank B. Hubachek Sr. recently donated the remainder of his land, located near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, to the University. Now, the institution has plans to build a wilderness research facility on the property.

Roy Rich, a post-doctoral research associate who has worked on the property, said the land seems like a “1950s base camp.”

“It has all these things, like a big old lodge and sauna, and all these things you would imagine in an old movie nestled in areas of managed and untouched forest,” he said.

A climate change experiment will be one of the main studies at the facility, which will be called the Hubachek Wilderness Research Center.

Rich said work has already started on the University’s B4WARMED project, which studies the effects of global climate change on temperate and boreal forests.

The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The University also conducts B4WARMED research at the Cloquet Forestry Center. 

For the study, researchers heat soil at surface level and below ground to see how certain trees will respond if the state’s climate warms as expected.

Rich said the recently acquired land is a prime spot for this type of forestry research.

Linda Nagel, a professor and director of operations responsible for the Cloquet and Hubachek research centers, said the Hubachek land is in a unique position for research because it has a mix of previously managed land and untouched boreal forest, which provides a dynamic
space.

Hubachek’s legacy

Hubachek’s family decided to donate his land to the University because of his relationship with the school and his passion for forestry research.

“[Hubachek] was instrumental in both protecting the Boundary Waters and in setting up this connection with the University,” said Peter Reich, a University forest resources professor.

Reich is also the Frank B. Hubachek Sr. chair in forest ecology and tree physiology, a position he’s held since receiving it from the Hubachek family and the University in 1991.

The Hubachek family owned property in the Boundary Waters before the area became protected, Reich said, but they had to trade their land when private parties were no longer allowed to own property there.

The family then took land outside the Boundary Waters, Reich said, and built their own research center on it. The buildings used for that facility eventually became the property of the new Hubachek Wilderness Center.