U research facility opens to the public

Approximately 300 people attended Thursday’s open house in Rosemount, Minn.

Mehgan Lee

Until a few years ago, “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs surrounded UMore Park, the University’s 7,500-acre research facility near Rosemount, Minn.

But even after the signs were removed, an aura of mystery still clung to the park.

“People had a lot of questions about what we were doing here,” said Phil Larsen, the park’s director of operations.

The public had a chance to get those questions answered Thursday at the park’s first open house since opening in 1947.

“This is the first time we’ve invited the public in to get a sampling of the research going on here,” Larsen said. “We wanted to demystify UMore Park and the whole property.”

About 300 people attended the open house.

John Deere tractors rumbled to life and took visitors on wagon rides through the farm-like grounds. The bumpy rides made several stops at displays University faculty had set up to explain their research.

At the University’s Raptor Center exhibit, visitors gawked at a bald eagle, red-tailed hawk and great horned owl while munching on free popcorn.

Near the Raptor Center exhibit, guests meandered through the park’s Master Gardeners’ Education and Display Garden.

Master gardeners – volunteers trained in gardening techniques researched by the University – demonstrated weed identification, as well as prairie and butterfly gardening.

They also conducted children’s gardening demonstrations. Children weaved protective plant coverings out of twigs and planted bean sprouts they could take home.

“I liked the weaving and the kids’ craft best,” said 12-year-old Britta Morrill, proudly displaying the bean sprout she had planted.

“This has been really nice and well done,” said Britta’s mother, Connie Morrill. “The gardens were great and it was very informative.”

More than 30 faculty and at least 100 students conduct research at UMore, said Jim Rowe, assistant director of operations at the park.

“All of our research is about providing safer food and feed,” he said.

Ongoing research includes finding natural ways to control insects, weeds and pathogens that affect field and vegetable crops.

Sam Sparish, a senior in environmental science, said he has worked at UMore for a year and a half. The park has given him hands-on experience in his field, which will be useful when he graduates, he said.

“Books only go so far,” Sparish said. “It’s a lot easier to learn what’s going on when you can get out in the field.”

UMore Park is unique because faculty and students can attend classes in the morning, then drive 22 miles and work on their research plots in the afternoon, Rowe said.

“The University is a large, urban campus, and to have this facility nearby is a resource,” Larsen said.

Sparish said he believes students should familiarize themselves with the park.

“A lot of the stuff we do is affecting how we get our food and how we’re going to keep getting it,” he said.

The food grown at UMore Park is donated to local charities, said Barbara Stendahl, a University extension educator. Some of the food is given to the Senior Nutrition Program, which provides healthy cooking demonstrations to senior citizens, and the rest is given to local food shelves, she said.

“Nothing is wasted here,” Stendahl said.