CSU opens new Shortgrass Steppe Research and Interpretation Center

Nov 12, 2010
by WLJ

Since the days following the Dust Bowl, Colorado State University (CSU) researchers have headed to a spot on the eastern Plains to study everything from cattle grazing to prairie dog plague. The research facilities, originally built in the 1960s, were a modest group of “temporary” buildings that had to do for the last 50 years.

That research station 32 miles east of Fort Collins, CO—known as the Shortgrass Steppe Research and Interpretation Center— now is being expanded to serve researchers as well as community groups. In the past 18 months, the center has added housing and classrooms to accommodate as many as 30 overnight guests and 100 day guests. The facility also offers two smaller meeting rooms for about 10 to 15 and a small catering kitchen.

CSU’s Office of the Vice President for Research will host an open house from 1-4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12 to showcase some of the research activities on the site.

The open house is open to the public. Food will be served; registration is required because of limited space. A motor coach will be available to transport attendees from the CSU campus to the site. The coach leaves at noon and returns by 4:30 p.m.

To RSVP and register, go to http://vpr.colostate.edu/ pages/rsvp_SGS.asp.

“While this center is largely attracting scientists, our hope is that it also serves as a resource for a wide variety of visitors interested in getting away for workshops, small conferences, retreats and opportunities such as bird-watching, viewing wildflowers and star-gazing,” said Bill Farland, vice president for Research at CSU. “This is a rare opportunity to connect with some of the history and beauty of the grasslands.”

Besides classes from CSU, the facility has been used by such groups as the Denver Audubon Society for birdwatching weekends and writers from the University of Wyoming, said Mike Antolin, biology professor and director of the Shortgrass Steppe Research and Interpretation Center.

Researchers using the facility are largely from the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences, and the Warner College of Natural Resources.

“This site has full-circle views of the Plains to the Chalk Bluffs and Wyoming to the north, and the Rocky Mountains to the west.

Abundant wildlife live in the area, including pronghorn antelope, meadowlarks, lark buntings, mountain plovers, migrating and resident hawks, coyotes, swift fox, badgers, burrowing owls and prairie dogs,” Antolin said.

The site is adjacent to the Central Plains Experimental Range, established by the Department of Agriculture in 1939 after the Dust Bowl to study the sustainability of cattle grazing. The nearby Pawnee National Grassland provides additional research areas and ample opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding and other recreational activities at the Pawnee Buttes and other backcountry locations.

Since the 1960s, the area has been the site for broader studies of grassland ecosystems, most recently by the Shortgrass Steppe Long-Term Ecological Research Project funded by the National Science Foundation. Researchers, K-16 teachers and students have continuously studied and visited the area. The mission of the center is to provide state-of-the-art facilities to support research and education and to foster appreciation and understanding of the North American grasslands. — WLJ