With rolling hills, vast tracts of undeveloped land, bountiful wildlife and fertile soil, UMore Park near Rosemount has it all, according to some state lawmakers.
UMore Park, an 8,000 acre plot of land used for research near Rosemount, has attracted much attention in media and from the public in connection with a proposed Gophers stadium.
In the bill, the University would sell 2,840 acres of UMore Park to the state. In exchange the state would increase its overall contribution to the stadium plan from 40 percent to about 50 percent of the total projected costs. This would cut per-semester student fees for the project in half, from $50 to $25.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, a co-author of the stadium bill that passed through the House last Thursday, described the land deal as a “win-win-win” situation.
“The University would get its stadium. All students are winners. If you are a college student, your fees wouldn’t increase as much. If you are a K-12 student, you have the opportunity to go on a field trip and have a real outdoor experience in the Twin Cities. And it’s a win for the outdoors folks,” he said.
The preservation of this land as undeveloped natural space is guaranteed within the bill. This is important for the future of the state, according to Charles Muscoplat, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
“Just think – in the next 100 years, as the Cities expand, this green space will be invaluable,” he said.
However, there is more to UMore than media and the bill have focused on, according to the park’s director of operations, Philip Larsen.
There is a rich history to the park, including immigrant and American Indian habitation and a World War II munitions plant, according to the UMore Park Web site.
The plant was closed after the war and almost 8,000 acres were given to the University in 1947. Portions of concrete walls and other remnants from the building remain on the site, according to the Web site.
“(The federal government) gave the land to us for a dollar for supporting the academic mission of the University,” Larsen said.
The park is home to ongoing research conducted by University faculty members and students.
On average, 35 to 45 faculty projects occur annually. This research includes livestock reproduction strategies, planting methods and disease-resistant agriculture.
The research translates well to applications outside the University and is well-received in the agricultural community, Larsen said.
“The research that we do out here on crops and livestock typically finds its way to agricultural producers,” he said.
There are opportunities for the public to interact with the land. UMore offers educational programs, hosts community events and provides tours of the land.
The Master Gardeners club has an award-winning garden at UMore that is free to the public.
“You need to come out here when it warms up in July to see the gardens. They’re just gorgeous,” Larsen said.
Lone Rock Trail, an 11-mile recreation trail at the southern end of the park, would be part of the land acquired by the state through current deals. The trail is open year-round to hikers, horseback riders and cross-country skiers.
There are two endangered species – the loggerhead shrike and Blanding’s turtle – and a host of other wildlife. The range of habitats at UMore, varying from wetlands to hills to forest and prairie, provides ample room for fox, deer, turkey, birds, turtles and frogs, among others, according to the UMore Park Web site.
The Vermillion River, which is known for its trout fishing, runs along the property’s southern boarder, McNamara said.
The face of UMore Park is changing, both through the land being considered for purchase by the state and in the remaining 5,000 acres, Larsen said.
If the bill is signed into law, the University would retain research rights to the land. A joint-management committee would be established between the University and the Department of Natural Resources, Muscoplat said.
“Though we have rights to the land forever, it still requires us to agree with the DNR on how to use the land,” Muscoplat said.
The University has a task force established to consider the future direction of the land it would retain.
“Can we do some development to make some money? I mean, the University is facing a really difficult time financially,” Muscoplat said.
The Board of Regents determined that any development of the land would need to have research purposes, according to Muscoplat. Ideas under consideration include energy-efficient or self-sustaining housing developments.
The future of UMore will be decided by the end of this legislative session, May 22. Whatever the outcome, Larsen said, the staff at UMore Park just wants people to be proud of the land.
“We want to look back on this and say, ‘Hey, this is something that we can be proud of and it truly is a legacy for the University of Minnesota.’ “