Ordway celebrates 45 years of protected land on Mississippi

By Sean Ryan

The Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area celebrated its 45th anniversary this July with passage of a Dakota County conservation easement that permanently protected land onsite from future development. The study area, which was originally purchased by Macalester in 1967 with funds donated by Katharine Ordway’s family, provides an intentional space for biological education, research, and the protection and management of natural environments. The easement permanently preserves the vast majority of the field site – 150 acres – from future residential, commercial and industrial development. A number of different partners worked together to fund and plan the easement, including Macalester, Dakota County and Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR), a local conservation advocacy group. The three partners leveraged their combined resources to make permanent protection viable, utilizing revenue generated from a Dakota County conservation tax, funds obtained from individual donors to Friends of the Mississippi and a land donation from the college, who intentionally sold the land to Dakota County below fair market price. The initial plan for Macalester’s participation in the easement came from the biology and environmental studies departments, but Dakota County and the State of Minnesota have had specific funds for conservation efforts available for the past 10 years. “Permanently preserving land through a conservation easement first requires a piece of land,” said Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton, who negotiated the financial portions of the contract. “Ordway made perfect sense, especially because it was located in Dakota County, which already had funding specifically set aside for land conservation efforts as the result of a bond measure that generated over $10 million in tax revenue,” he said. In the end, $275,000 from Dakota County’s Farmland and Natural Areas Program, $250,000 from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and $25,000 from FMR were used to purchase the actual easement. Jerald Dosch, the current Ordway Field Station director and a professor in biology and environmental studies, expressed excitement for the station’s future. “We are the only ACTC school to have a field site,” Dosch said, “and there are few liberal arts colleges who are so close to a site with so many resources.” Even though Dakota County now technically owns the land, Macalester will still manage all activities on site. Students who have lived at the Ordway during the summer while conducting intensive, full-time research projects took the time to reflect on their experiences while also looking into the future. “I am very excited about Ordway’s anniversary,” said Clare MacMillen ’13, who first worked onsite doing research on invasive species the summer after her sophomore year. “It is a valuable resource and has been instrumental in my biology/ecology education at Macalester. With its diverse types of ecosystems, distance from campus, and well-managed upkeep, Ordway is the perfect place for academic research and escape.” Megan Whitney ’13 emphasized the natural landscape as a crucial part of her research experience. “The best part of my time at Ordway, hands down, was working outside in a beautiful environment everyday,” Whitney said. “I don’t know if the [conservation easement] will change much, but I do think it will make sure that Ordway stays as beautiful and pristine as it is right now. I think it’s wonderful that there is a place so close to a large metropolitan area and that this protection will ensure not only that the life there will continue to flourish as a stable ecosystem, but also that students and faculty will continue to be able to access an incredible resource.” Future plans for the Ordway site include expanding the number of disciplines onsite to include those outside of the natural sciences. “For the first 45 years, [the Ordway] has primarily been a biology-oriented location, which has changed recently and will hopefully continue to in the future,” Dosch said. “We hope that the easement will launch a new era where all members of the Macalester community can engage with our site. It’s a dream we’re trying to make it happen.” Dosch encouraged students interested in visiting Ordway to contact him or Mike Andersen, the onsite director. “In October, we will be celebrating the anniversary internally, as a Macalester party,” he said. “Any students are welcome to come and engage with this amazing site.” refresh –>