MARQUETTE - Northern students and faculty, as well as the surrounding community, will benefit from a unique outdoor classroom being developed, on campus. Ron Sundell (Geography), director of NMU's environmental science program, is coordinating the project.

The North-Campus Outdoor Classroom and Native Plants Research Study Area will be located just north of the New Science Facility. It will provide a bevy of educational, research and training opportunities while promoting an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to environmental learning.

"It's an ecologically sound idea that has immense educational value and the potential to draw both graduate and undergraduate students to Northern," Sundell said. "Having this area will place NMU at the forefront as a premier institution involved in native plant studies for the region."

The 6.28-acre study area will consist of six specific sites. One is the already established automatic weather station that was built in conjunction with the National Weather Service. The other study sites include a mixed woodland area, a retention pond/wetland site, two native flora study sites, and a native seed research propagation plot.

Sundell said the outdoor classroom/native plants study area will get a lot of use from students and faculty in the biology, geography, and chemistry departments, as well as those in the environmental science program. Daily activities at the site will include general instruction; student training and testing of field equipment and procedures; research, development, testing and improvement of native plants restoration techniques;

source of seed and plant materials propagated for local/regional restoration projects; and public awareness and demonstrations in the use of native plant species.

"The use of native plants, some possibly transplanted from right here on campus, and the ability to forest native seeds for use both in the classroom and in projects in the community is an invaluable resource," Sundell said. "Native plant studies are a very important educational and research tool throughout the country. NMU could lead the way in the upper Midwest for these types of programs."

Sundell said that even the location of the outdoor classroom/native plants study area benefits the university and the scientific community.

"Having the site so close to the dorms with students walking through it daily and reading the signage we will post will only help to increase awareness of ecological issues," Sundell said.

Sundell first envisioned this project when he arrived at Northern four years ago and has been planning the actual site for two years now. With the weather station already complete and providing a continual data flow to both the weather service and a host of campus facilities, including NMU's public radio and television stations, and work on the retention pond/wetland study site having begun this summer, Sundell plans to really start digging into the conversion process this fall with the help of his students.

Sundell also has begun planning additional projects to connect the on-campus project to a NMU Off-Campus Lands Project that he is also a heading to create a multi-7 tiered, phased approach for student instruction, research, and management of the properties owned by NMU. These include the Longyear, Shiras and Triangle plots.

Sundell is also organizing the Central Lake Superior Region Environmental Restoration Initiatives to develop working relationships between NMU and various local, state, and federal environmental and natural resource managing agencies for work on various projects throughout the surrounding region.

"When this is complete," Sundell said, "we'll be able to conduct long-term studies both at and between the on-campus and off-campus sites. This fits the 'Northern ... Naturally' philosophy to a 'T'.”

Ron Sundell can be reached at 906-227-1359

Prepared By
Ryan Sjoholm