Pigeon Lake

Feb. 13, 1998

Pigeon Lake Field Station a Unique Learning Environment

By Maria Franco
UW-RF News Bureau

Imagine a classroom where the walls are tall green trees, the ceiling is a blue sky, the drone of rippling water from lakes and streams surround you and the noisiest distractions you hear are the occasional chirp of a bird or the croak of a bullfrog.

This setting describes the Pigeon Lake Field Station, directed by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and dedicated to serving higher education at undergraduate and graduate levels, "as a center for study, teaching and research in any discipline in which learning can be enhanced by utilizing a natural, relatively undisturbed, wilderness environment," according to its mission statement.

For nearly four decades, the station has been a magnet both for credit course offerings as well as hosting non-credit conferences and workshops by non-university groups.

Recently named to the position of senior manager for the field station is UW-RF art department Chair Michael Padgett, who says his priorities will be to bring stability to its administration and more opportunities for faculty to teach.

"Over nearly a decade of involvement I've developed a vested interest in the success of Pigeon Lake and its programs as well as a deep concern for its future," Padgett says. "I've watched management come and go and support for the facility and its programs fluctuate with the disruption of each change in leadership.

"My interest is in building the facility and its programs on its clear strengths and in making its programs responsive to customer interests and needs. As I see it, the answer to the success of Pigeon Lake Field Station lies in improving our outreach and communication efforts to be certain an awareness exists in regard to the wide range of offerings and experiences available."

The location of the field station, in the southwest part of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin's Bayfield County, is ideal for field studies in the natural sciences, while the beauty of the area makes it popular for activities in the humanities, social sciences, and recreation and physical education.

Each summer, students and faculty from across the University of Wisconsin System enjoy benefits in these unique surroundings that cannot be attained in the common classroom environment. One-on-one training, highly structured use of time, and the absence of every-day distractions promise thorough instruction at the field station.

Courses range across many disciplines, including biology, education, sociology and anthropology. The setting particularly lends itself to the arts, with three Art Weeks offering such credit courses as glassmaking, clay, painting, print-making, photography, drawing, and African and African-American art.

Meredith Clawson, of Excelsior, Minn., majors in physical education at UW-RF, with minors in outdoor recreation and health. She took three outdoor recreation courses at Pigeon Lake during the 1997 summer session and experienced first-hand what she considers an incredibly valuable resource for the University. "You get a brand new perspective when you're at the field station, with the beautiful wild flowers, amazing wild life and the clean, clear lake; you're on a whole different time schedule - Mother Nature's."

Professor Dennis Van den Heuvel of the UW - Stout vocational rehabilitation department coordinates and directs a session at Pigeon Lake for a group of professional counselors from all over the state. He says it provides a setting that can't be matched on a traditional campus.

"Combining the physical beauty and climate and the ambiance of outdoor living with the growth of professional camaraderie makes Pigeon Lake an outstanding, potent learning place. The setting is informal enough to allow great expression of ideas and planning."

Pigeon Lake is equipped with excellent classroom facilities, comfortable cabin accommodations and bathhouses with shower facilities, including those with handicapped accessibility. Foosball, pool and other games are available in the recreation hall, and visitors also canoe, boat or swim in Pigeon Lake, or bicycle in the National Forest.

The original camp was constructed in the early 1930's and used by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The facility was taken over by the U.S. Forest Service until 1938.

Next, the field station became an organization site used by a variety of recreational groups until it was declared surplus property by the U.S. Forest Service in 1959. The facility was then purchased by the Board of Regents of State Colleges. In the next 16 years the field station increased in size from 11.5 acres its present 50 acres.

With a merger of the State Universities and the University of Wisconsin in 1973, the Board of Regents passed a resolution approving the Articles of Agreement which formed the basis for the Pigeon Lake Field Station Consortium and the guidelines for the station's operation. In 1982 the Consortium was dissolved and responsibility of the field station was transferred to the UW-River Falls.

The condition of the transfer gave UW-RF responsibility of the financial and academic administration of the program and the maintenance of the physical facilities of the field station. It also takes the lead in developing opportunities for programming by the faculty from other institutions within the system.

Although the highest priority for the field station is for credit-producing instruction and research-related activities, the field station is available for educational meetings and conferences, non-credit programs, and non-educational use by individuals and groups.

One such group is the Spelmanslag Fiddlers Group, which plays traditional Scandinavian folk music. The group retreats to Pigeon Lake at least one weekend each year for "restoration and meditation," according to Ruth Reilly, who has coordinated the trip for a number of years. "Our music is straight from the heart and the setting at Pigeon Lake offers a wonderful, pressure-free place to play."

Information about the field station, 1998 course offerings, and student and faculty concerns can be found on the web at http://www.uwrf.edu/pigeonlake/welcome.html

Faculty who are interested in developing summer offerings can contact Padgett at pigeon.lake@uwrf.edu, or can call him at 715/425-3256.

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