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  • Regional Science Center and Poderosa Golf Club

Regional Science Center

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  • Regional Science Center Restoration Project

    Planning is underway in anticipation of a major research and education initiative at the MSU Moorhead Regional Science Center. A proposal to study the restoration of developed land to a natural state has been in the works for more than 30 years, and now a $527,760 grant application is working its way through the final funding process. If awarded, work will begin this summer.

    The grant application says faculty and students working at the Regional Science Center will restore and monitor 160 acres of prairie and riparian forest habitat that will lead to developing new protocols for understanding long-term ecological recovery. Brian Wisenden, Biosciences, is the project manager; others involved in the project include Anthony Borman, Regional Science Center, and Rinita Dalan and Kirk Steuve, GIS and GeoArcheology. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish Wildlife and Conservation Biology are also partners in the project.

    “The Regional Science Center has been a tremendously valuable learning space since it was acquired in 1978, and soon it will achieve its true potential,” said MSUM Interim Provost Michelle Malott. “This project will provide faculty and students the opportunity to be involved in nationally significant research. This is a rare and wonderful opportunity. It is great to be on the brink of fulfilling the master plan that was written in 1983.

    • The MSUM Alumni Foundation owns the real estate. Up until March 31, Valley Golf Management leased the land and they own the personal property associated with golf operations.
    • In 1978, the land was gifted to the university by the Elks Club to establish the Regional Science Center with the expectation that the land would be used solely for scientific and educational purposes. Golf continued on the property until a master plan was developed and funding could be secured.
    • By 1983, a master plan was created that called for the land to be used for prairie preservation research and as a teaching lab for both university and K-12 students. A director was hired to develop the educational program.
    • In 1988 it was decided to transfer a portion of the land to the University, meanwhile the remaining portion owned by the Alumni Foundation was leased to investors of Ponderosa Golf (today called Valley Golf Management).
    • In 1991, construction began on the Science Center¹s Interpretive building, funded through a Minnesota legislative appropriation.
    • In May of 2003, the Regional Science Center convened a planning workshop funded by a grant received from the National Science Foundation¹s program for planning and facility development at field stations and marine laboratories. This strategic planning effort was the result of strong support to increase the research component of the Science Center by developing a field station aspect to the administration, facilities and programs.
    • In July 2014, a $527,760 grant application to the Legislative Citizen- Commission in Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) was submitted for funding from the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund (see attachment). This grant proposal is in the final review process.  
    • The MSUM Alumni Foundation has maintained close contact with VGM, and on February 23, 2015, they informed VGM that the lease would not be renewed. 
    • The current Ponderosa golf land has been identified as part of the LCCMR proposal and there isn’t comparable property available for the educational purpose. It is one of the few remaining pieces of bluestem prairie, and it is located next to a state park and the existing Regional Science Center land. The combined size makes this property unique and is one reason the Department of Natural Resources is our partner.
    • When golf first began on the site there were fewer courses in the area. Now there are 10 golf courses within 20 miles of Ponderosa, including the Hawley Golf Course six miles away.
    • No. The gift was accepted with the intent that golf would be allowed until the entire original donated land could be used for science education by MSUM.
    • The donated land has been used to develop the Regional Science Center and the Paul P. Feder Observatory. The RSC provides educational programs for over 7,000 PK-12 students each year. The RSC is also open to the public and our staff partner with the DNR to offer public programming. More information on the Regional Science Center can be found at this website:
    • The Paul P. Feder Observatory is used by both the public and for educational and research purposes. The Fargo-Moorhead Astronomy Club regularly holds public events at the RSC. The observatory itself contains a 16-inch cassegrain reflecting telescope. It is a powerful telescope run by two computers, one in charge of aiming it, and the other in charge of recording images. The system uses sensitive electronic cameras to record images. Images are shown on the computer monitors in the control booth and may also be projected on a large screen in the auditorium.
    • The RSC is also utilized extensively by MSUM students and faculty from a variety of disciplines. Students in a number of biology courses routinely participate in lab and research activities on RSC land. Each fall over 100 new biology majors participate in a course that requires two separate inquiry-based experiences at the RSC. Similarly, students in astronomy course routinely utilize the Observatory. In addition, a multitude of individual faculty-student research projects occur at the RSC, from research of fish and aquatic invertebrates, to research on bees, dragonflies, birds, prairie plants and other prairie habitats. These projects are not limited to just MSUM faculty, faculty from Concordia, NDSU and the University of Minnesota have also used this resource.

    2013 Regional Science Center programming synopsis

    During 2013 there were 148 programmatic events that fall into three types.

    Scheduled groups are events planned and presented at the request of an organized group such as a school, scouting troop, daycare, church organization, etc. The group scheduling the event is charged a nominal fee for this service.

    Public Programs are events the Science Center plans and presents as a free, open to the public event. There is no fee charged for any of these events with the exception of the Trail Run.

    Open Houses are characterized as specific scheduled time periods when the Science Center facilities are open to casual visitors. In some but not all cases there are family friendly activities planned. There is no fee charged for these events.

    Event Type # of Events # of Participants Average participants/event
    Schedule group 61 3,558 58
    Public program 36 1,320 37
    Open houses 51 2,422 47
    All types of events 148 7,300 49

    Other uses of the site/facility not included are MSUM Residence Assistance and student organization retreats (between 5-10 instances per year) and MSUM/NDSU/Concordia College academic department use. Specific MSUM academic departments using the site/facilities include: Biosciences, Anthropology & Earth Science, Physics & Astronomy, Art & Design, Music and School of Teaching & Learning.

    • The grant dollars will be spent to support faculty and student work at the RSC, in addition to providing funds to purchase materials and supplies for the restoration work itself. The outcome of the work will have a broader statewide impact as a case study for future restoration projects elsewhere. In addition the results and curricular protocols developed in order to involve undergraduates will be published in peer-reviewed journals in restoration ecology and education. The Science Center will expand its public program offerings to include restoration specific activities that add value to the restoration and educate the public, who will have access to the land both during and after the project for activities such as citizen science level biological monitoring (bird banding, plant ecology, honeybee health etc.).
    • This work will fulfill the mission/vision of the RSC by providing direct, hands-on educational opportunities for our students that are related to understanding and supporting the native ecology of western Minnesota. It will also increase the scope of public programming the RSC is able to offer and provide both our students and the public with an understanding of how to return ecological systems to a stable, healthy and sustainable state, work that is occurring across the globe. Students will also be trained on specific techniques, technologies, skills and best practices. For example, the use of Geospatial Information Systems technology provides students with a diverse skill set with broad applications. Students with experience in this technology will be better equipped to enter and contribute to a science/technology workforce.
    • Organizations that support the expansion of the RSC include the Minnesota DNR, the University of Minnesota, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Biology.
    • While there is not comparable land available for research purposes, there are 10 golf courses within 20 miles of Ponderosa, including the Hawley Golf Course six miles away.
    • The Alumni Foundation has considered the economic impact of losing its share of the expected annual revenue from golf operations and determined that the value of the projected benefits, including $527,760 in grant funding and greater learning opportunities, exceeds the loss.
    • The university has not studied the impact the loss of golf will have on the community. Based on its financial reporting, the Ponderosa Course has made declining lease payments over the past few years. Last year’s lease payment was down 31% from the peak year 2010.
      Lease Payments Chart

      Several new golf courses have been added in the region in recent years so it is expected that displaced rounds due to the closing of the Ponderosa can be easily accommodated on these other courses and that these courses will welcome the additional business.
    • Our mission is education not recreation. Using this land to better understand environmental preservation while giving students a better education is central to our mission and why we obtained the property in the first place. Providing opportunities for golf was always a temporary accommodation and is really a mission for others.
    • Golfers had asked that the 30 acres that make up the course be maintained for golf, but maintaining a golf course would be a threat to the integrity of the research project. This project is of special ecological value because it expands existing protected prairie habitat, while at the same time providing important data that will be a model for future restoration efforts both across the state and nationally.
    • Having developed land interspersed with land that is being restored would make it impossible to isolate cause and effect and as a result the scientific data from the project would be questionable. Additionally, this research gives our students a unique opportunity to be engaged with the science of restoration ecology with a focus on the long-term impact of restoring all of the gifted Regional Science Center land to natural prairie habitat.