The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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May 24, 2011

Family donates large tract of prairie, wetland to MSU

MANKATO — Minnesota State University’s newest classroom and research facility is blanketed in hip-high grass and overcome by all manner of native flora and fauna.

The 58-acre tract of prairie and wetland is also the first land donation in the university’s history and believed to be the first such donation in the history of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The gift was announced Tuesday during a news conference on the edge of the property, a largely undeveloped area northeast of the intersection of Highway 14 and Third Avenue. The donation was made by Lime Valley Development Company and the family of Darlene and William Radichel.

“This will provide our next generation of students the opportunity to learn first-hand about the issues and science of water and wetland resources,” said Brad Cook, an MSU biology instructor who underscored the importance of wetland research by telling those in attendance that water is projected to become even more limited than fossil fuels in coming decades.

The property includes prairie as well as natural and restored wetlands. It’s also buttressed by a cross-section of southern Minnesota industry: A railroad line cuts the tract in half with a scrap yard, packaging plant, machining shop and waste recycling center nearby.

That kind of industrial impact on wetlands, Cook said, is common in southern Minnesota (as well as many other locales) and provides a research laboratory that is representative of those impacts.

“This site contains a variety of wetlands surrounded by a realistic landscape of Minnesota,” Cook said, pausing to emphasize his next statement:

“It’s an ideal location.”

But Cook isn’t the only one interested.

Naturally, the land will be used for biological and ecological study, but at least eight instructors from five other departments are preparing courses that utilize the land: civil engineering, construction management, geology, chemistry and urban planning.

Stephen Druschel, an MSU civil engineering instructor, said his students have long used city parks to conduct field activities. But those opportunities allow students perhaps a day of study.

But the new environmental research plot, he said, will allow students to conduct studies “for a semester, a whole year, or over the course of a few years.”

The process of donating the land began nearly five years ago with a meeting between Cook and Brad Radichel, president of Lime Valley Development Company, as well as sisters and Lime Valley directors Brenda Radichel Quaye and Christina Radichel Caulkins.

The Radichels have been longtime supporters of MSU. In 2006 the family gave an endowment to pay student assistant curators to maintain the Darlene and William Radichel Herbarium at MSU, a large collection of mounted and labeled native plants, and they became interested in another gift to commemorate their parents’ love of the outdoors.

During the next several years, Radichel and MSU worked with nearly a dozen agencies — including the state and federal government, Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers and city of Mankato — to iron out the legal and environmental issues involved in such a donation.

Chief among the issues was petitioning the Corps for permission to conduct research on wetlands they helped to restore. They eventually received that permission and Cook said it was critical to have complete research access to the site.

Patti Kramlinger, MSU development director, served in a lead role throughout the process as the one who worked between agencies to ensure all parties had the necessary paperwork and documentation. She said she has worked on the process “constantly” since it began.

MSU President Richard Davenport joked that the donation process was one of “endurance” and that scientists, also, “need to know about bureaucracy.”

More seriously, Davenport said the land donation was “one of the most valuable gifts we’ve gotten because it lasts forever.”

Brad Radichel agreed the process was time-consuming, but said the result was worth the wait.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunities this will create for the university and its students and faculty,” he said.

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