Natural history area seeks to expand for more research

Jason Juno

Recent University of Chicago graduate Joe Little works at a place where two Minnesotas meet. There, the state’s northern forests and southern prairies come together in the northern metro area, where the University of Minnesota operates the Cedar Creek Natural History Area.

The 9-square-mile area, used for ecological research, is attempting to raise $4 million to $6 million to expand the existing complex, said Clarence Lehman, Cedar Creek Natural History Area associate director. The state and federal governments are assisting in funding the area. The area is also looking for private donors to support it.

Cedar Creek Natural History Area allows the College of Biological Sciences to do necessary ecological research in a unique area, said Peggy Rinard, communications director for the college.

Jared Trost, a research assistant in the department of forest resources, said more space would allow for more research. For example, research on restoring a prairie or finding groundwater pollution could be done more effectively with more space, he said.

Lehman said the complex also needs new housing for visiting researchers because the current housing is not comfortable and does not attract visitors.

“They don’t stay as long, and we don’t get the benefit,” he said.

In the summer, 100 people work at the area, some of whom are students, Lehman said.

Students each have a research project, and some get University of Minnesota field credit for their work, Lehman said.

Student intern housing is also crowed and needs replacement, because many people live there during the summer, he said.

The area officials said they also want a specialized science building that would hold necessary equipment. The building would help prevent the area from transferring work to other universities, Lehman said.

Rebuilding a storage building that recently burned down is not included in this expansion plan, but the building has to be replaced, he said.

But work at the area is already under way.

The area officials are selecting architects to build the Science Outreach Center, which will provide display and office space and public meeting rooms.

The need for the area’s expansion is connected to the evolving field of study. Ecology, as a science, has changed, meaning more people work at the area and it is overcrowded, Lehman said.

Cedar Creek Natural History Area is expanding because of the explosion of human influence on the Earth, he said.

“(Ecology) is to understand how the ecosystems of the Earth function and how we can manage them so they continue to function properly,” Lehman said.

Trost said ecologists must also meet with policy-makers, educators and the public now, unlike in the past, which is another reason for expansion. The public should decide how the Earth’s resources and ecosystems are managed, he said.