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Research / Discovery

New Shortgrass Steppe Research and Interpretation Center opens Nov. 12

November 6, 2010

Since the days following the Dust Bowl, Colorado State University 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.

Expanded housing, classrooms, meeting rooms

That research station 32 miles east of Fort Collins – 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.

Open house 1-4 p.m. Friday

Colorado State’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.

Resource for variety of visitors

“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 Colorado State. “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 bird-watching 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.

Full-circle views of the plains

“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 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.

Research, education, understanding of North American grasslands

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.

In addition to highlighting Colorado State research, the Nov. 12 event will also feature several other projects:

  • Northern Colorado recipients of the recent CO-LABS Governor’s Award will be honored. CO-LABS is a consortium of federally funded scientific laboratories, universities, businesses, local governments, and community leaders organized to establish Colorado as a global leader in research, technology and their commercialization.
  • The National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, will present information about its efforts to collect data across the United States on the impacts of climate change, land use change and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity. The Colorado State Shortgrass Steppe Research and Interpretation Center will host a long-term “core” site for NEON, which is a nationwide project of the U.S. National Science Foundation.
  • Food at the open house will be provided by three caterers who also can serve visitors who book the facility.

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
E-mail: Emily.Wilmsen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2336