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Kemp Natural Resources Station: Good Science In The Northwoods

At the turn of the century, Edward Kemp bought 900 acres of forest and wetlands near Minocqua, Wis. His aim was to extract raw materials for his forest products business and to establish a summer home in the northwoods for his family. Struck by the beauty of the place, he chose the tip of a Tomahawk Lake peninsula for the site of his estate. This land was never logged, remaining virtually unchanged since the days of European settlement. In 1960, Kemp”s granddaughters, Sally Greenleaf and Susan Spencer Small, bequeathed the buildings and 135 acres to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for research and teaching about the conservation, preservation and stewardship of natural resources. First called the Kemp Biological Station, the site was renamed the Kemp Natural Resources Station to better reflect this focus.

Today, the station is a busy research and education nexus with laboratory, classroom, lodging and dining facilities. Administered by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as part of its system of agricultural research stations, Kemp hosts hundreds of students, scientists and natural resource professionals every year. It is the terrestrial complement to nearby Trout Lake Station, which focuses on aquatic ecosystems and is administered by UW-Madison”s College of Letters and Science.

Set in the midst of a lake-pocked, glaciated terrain, Kemp is home to northern vegetation communities such as hemlock forest, bog, marsh and mixed deciduous forest. These communities are typical of the transition zone between mixed deciduous-coniferous forests and the boreal forest of the far north.

“The hemlock forest at Kemp is about 250 to 300 years old,” says Kemp superintendent Tom Steele. “It is just on the cusp of being old-growth with the associated species and structural characteristics, such as canopy gaps or ”sun pockets.””

Kemp”s relatively undisturbed forest communities and its proximity to other research sites in northern Wisconsin make it an outstanding educational center. An account of projects conducted during two weeks in July 1996 illustrates typical summertime research and educational activities:

* Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program”s natural resources module;
* UW-Madison Department of Forestry research projects:

forest hydrology; growth, mortality and canopy recruitment of tree saplings; use of Landsat imagery in GIS ecosystem models;

* UW-Madison Department of Botany sphagnum bog research;
* UW-Madison Department of Wildlife Ecology osprey monitoring;
* UW-Madison Department of Plant Pathology international workshop on forest pathology; and
* Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources forestry consultants workshop.

“Any group with activities pertaining to natural resources outreach, teaching or research is eligible to use Kemp Station,” says Steele. Scheduling priority goes to UW-Madison faculty, staff and students, and next to other educational institutions and state and federal agencies.

Since 1990, Kemp has hosted more than 50 outreach programs with a total audience of more than 2,000 local residents and natural resource professionals.

For example, “We had an extremely successful three-day workshop here called the ”Advanced Forest Habitat Classification Workshop,”” says Steele. “It was made up of interdisciplinary teams representing several groups from private industry, public agencies and landowners. Each team planned how to manage a different forest stand by using a habitat classification system developed by UW-Madison forest ecologist John Kotar. The idea was to maintain or even enhance biodiversity while using the forest stands for harvest, recreation or other purposes.”

For non-professionals, Kemp conducts an annual series of interpretive nature walks and programs, some that are issue-oriented and some that combine education and recreation. Each spring, Kemp hosts “Eco Trek” for local seventh-graders, and in the past has held natural resources career days. Kemp even produces a weekly radio spot that airs on public radio across northern Wisconsin and Michigan”s Upper Peninsula.

At Kemp, students can supplement their classroom instruction with real-world problems and fieldwork. The station is especially busy in late spring and early summer, hosting classes that range from one-day seminars to three-week field courses. Students converge here from some 16 UW-Madison departments as well as from sister institutions such as UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay.

Research remains at the heart of Kemp”s mission to manage, conserve and preserve northern Wisconsin”s natural resources. “There are people here every week beginning in late April right through until the end of October,” says Steele. “The scale of research topics ranges from the cellular level, with Department of Botany researcher Linda Graham”s studies of algae, to the landscape level, represented by Department of Forestry researchers David Mladenoff and Tom Gower”s development of geographic information systems to model regional ecosystems.”

Today”s bustle of research and educational activities at Kemp is the product of more than three decades of highs and lows in program development.

“Back in the ”60s and early ”70s, when Kemp first came into the agricultural research station system, it was the site of pioneering research in tree physiology, forest soils and forest pathology,” says Steele. “It was really on the cutting edge.”

But by the mid-1970s, scientific and technological advances started to leave Kemp behind; the station simply didn”t have the laboratory facilities to keep up. Research activities waned until CALS Associate Dean Neal Jorgensen initiated a reassessment and overhaul of the station in 1989. The review committee”s recommendations included hiring a superintendent to coordinate research, instruction and outreach programs; upgrading the laboratory, providing computers and improving communications; integrating Kemp”s programs with other northern Wisconsin research and instruction sites; and establishing a local advisory committee to help guide the station.

New goals
Due to the laboratory expansion and upgrade, Kemp is now a little short of lodging space. More classroom and meeting space is needed, as well as additional computer equipment and facilities repair. To help meet these new goals and stay within its frugal budget, the station is working with the University of Wisconsin Foundation to explore opportunities for private support from interested alumni and friends. Already, local residents and Kemp advisory board members Don and Greta Janssen have generously given more than $25,000 in money and equipment to the station. An informational newsletter is being developed to be mailed to all contributors twice each year. The newsletter will outline activities and special events at Kemp for those interested in becoming more involved with the station.

For more information, contact Tom Steele, Kemp Natural Resources Station, 8031 Kemp Woods Road, Woodruff, WI 54568-9643; (715) 356-9070.