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St. Croix River access furthered by grant

September 27, 2007

The resources of the St. Croix River are now at the fingertips of UW-River Falls students and staff as a result of a $50,000 grant by the McKnight Foundation.

The product of this $50,000 grant is the inception of the St. Croix River Institute. The institute was established in 2006 and it is a collaborate effort between UWRF and the National Park Service’s St. Croix National Scenic River way, according to a press release by the UWRF public affairs office. The purpose of the institute is to increase understanding and to promote stewardship of the river and its watershed.

“We came into this because we’re interested in what the St. Croix has to offer,” Bill Campbell, the director of grants and research at UWRF said.

This new partnership between UWRF and the St. Croix Park Service will benefit students and staff involved in numerous fields of study at the university.

“Internships could be open to everybody,” Campbell said. “History majors interested in studying the history of the St. Croix, biology students studying bugs, mussels and fish, and Health and Human Performance majors interested in recreation along the St. Croix.”

Along with possible internship programs, UWRF plans to incorporate the St. Croix River into the curriculum of a number of courses.

“We are planning undergraduate credit-bearing courses that might be part of a major or minor,” Kris Allen, an outreach and graduate studies program manager at UWRF said. 

The resources of the St. Croix are not limited to undergraduate students alone. Students enrolled in the UWRF masters programs may also be able to use the river in their studies, Allen said. Studying the resources, history, heath, and recreation opportunities along the St. Croix may be the main focus of the St. Croix River Institute, but it is not limited to those aspects alone. The aesthetic appeal of the St. Croix River is an aspect that will also be utilized.

“It addition to the academic courses we’re also looking at enrichment courses such as art along the river,” Allen said.

The partnership between UWRF and the St. Croix Park Service is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any research going on there by UWRF students and staff. Chelsie Harder, a senior biology major from Colfax, Wis. worked all summer on a research project with the aid of UWRF Biology Professor John Wheeler.

“Me and professor John Wheeler did pitfall trapping of ants along a strip of land on the St. Croix,” Harder said. “I took all of the ants out of the traps and did a thing called morphotyping.”

The process of morphotyping involves categorizing the species of ants that were trapped, and then once the species are identified they can be studied to determine the heath of the land, according to Harder. Research similar to the kind that Harder conducted over the summer is now be a possibility for other UWRF students and staff because of the St. Croix Institute.

“The National Park Service has jurisdiction over some very interesting places, beautiful places, but biologically rich places too,” Wheeler said. “They gave us access to the land and we benefit from their expertise and their understanding of the property.”

The aid of the park service could prove to be an invaluable resource for UWRF students and staff, according to Wheeler. 

“It definitely was a good experience and I learned a lot about research methods and it showed me how tedious research can be,” Harder said. “I feel that the opening of the St. Croix Institute will definitely further learning for people like me.”