Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area
Jerald J. Dosch
Visiting Associate Professor, Biology
9550 Inver Grove Trail
Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076
The Christman Era (1970-1982)
Excerpts from a history written by Kelly M. Paulson in 2001 as her Honors Project
The lofty goals set forth during the late 1960’s were written in a context that could not have anticipated the financial crisis Macalester would encounter in the 1970’s. Macalester College itself was lucky to survive this monetary drought, say nothing about the survival of Ordway during this decade. Ordway’s ability to pull through this period of neglect was very much due to the dedication and hard work of Richard J. Cristman, the Resident Naturalist at Ordway during these years.
Visions and Missions for Ordway
In November of 1973, someone, presumably Christman, gave a presentation to a Teacher’s Workshop entitled “Some Comments on Nature Establishments.” This sets out something of an informal mission statement for KONHSA and all similar nature establishments, and also inflates the size of Ordway to “a little over 280 acres,” which seemed to be a common and convenient number to “round up” to. Christman began by attempting to define Ordway:
What is a ‘natural history study area’??? By way of definition, natural history is (or used to be) applied to zoology, botany, mineralogy and similar sciences; however, it is now commonly restricted to a more or less unsystematic study of these subjects…In many ways this is a very descriptive title for us although it is to be hoped that we are not completely UN-systematic about the studies performed at our study area. Our actual purpose is to provide facilities as an outdoor laboratory for our Biology Department; at the same time there are other academic disciplines which can and do make use of the facility: Geography; Geology; etc. We also encourage, incidentally, our sister colleges to share in the use of our facilities. Our own college participates both as class units and as individual independent studies, a growingly [sic] popular endeavor at Macalester.
This is an excellent summary of how Ordway was actually used during the period Christman was there, although he does neglect to mention the (quite prolific) use by community groups and pre-college students. He then goes on to contrast the stated purpose of a “natural history study area” with that of a “nature center,” saying “a nature center has both instruction and entertainment as its raisons d’être. This contrasts sharply with a natural history study area, whose principal—perhaps only—purpose is a scientific approach to an understanding of nature in its various attitudes.”
In the fall of 1970, a new course was added to the Macalester curriculum: Environmental Science 15, Interdisciplinary Course, which was also listed under Biology, Geology, and Geography. The new Environmental Science program was coordinated by Mr. Webers and Mr. Lanegran, and the course’s only prerequisite was one course in the sciences. The class was described as “a multi-disciplined introduction to the scientific aspects of the ‘physical’ environment. The course will stress biological, geographical, and geological facets of the environment with contributions from the disciplines of chemistry, physics and economics.”
Two years later, beginning in the 1972-1973 academic year, students could earn a Major Concentration in Environmental Studies. Macalester College was one of the first colleges in the Midwest to offer such a program, so it was definitely a progressive and constantly changing field at the time. In the 1972-73 Catalog, the concentration is described as an interdepartmental major that focuses on man’s relationship to his environment…[it is] intended to improve students’ understanding of mankind’s role in the physical and biological world, and is established in the belief that there is a role in society for persons broadly trained in matters pertaining to the environment.
By the next year, the Environmental Studies program was entirely the business of David Southwick, a Geology professor who served as coordinator until 1978. The program description set out a specific plan for completion of the major concentration in this field, which consisted of fourteen courses from Astronomy to Anthropology, plus a list of recommended courses and two of Environmental Studies’ very own classes, an introduction and a senior seminar.
In 1976, the required courses were better articulated and, again, ranged throughout many departments. In 1978, Professor J.A. Jones (former Director of Ordway) took over the Environmental Studies program and it became a full-blown major, instead of being listed in the back of the catalog with other interdisciplinary “programs.”
Research Initiatives at Ordway During the 1970’s
The vast majority of the research that remains from these years was performed by Christman himself, the vocational ornithologist, as part of his long-term bird banding study. Jack Shields, a Biology professor, produced several long and comprehensive reports during July of 1972: research on the linear growth rate in woody plants and a distribution report on the flora of KONHSA; he also compiled a master herbarium for Ordway.
Contrary to some current assertions about Ordway, there was plenty of serious research, involving larger universities and collaborations, going on during this period. For example, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota carried out an invertebrate-trapping study there, a behavioral study funded by the NSF was performed by a professor from St. Catherine’s and a Macalester student, and another U of M graduate student was studying sow bugs at Ordway for years. Other projects include flora surveys, aquatic investigations in River Lake, and research on the relationships between snowmobile use and small mammal mortality.
Utilization of Ordway Under Christman
Christman had developed a trail system with a guide to describe the different habitats on the property, which made the area more accessible and increased the educational value of the land. In the 1970’s, Ordway was used a great deal, and by a great variety of visitors.
Non-academic groups also used Ordway occasionally, although these events were usually based on a premise of entertaining donors and “friends” of the college. Even though Ordway was an ideal place for such events, we must emphasize that the vast majority of the use during the Christman era was educational, and a great deal of that was for pre-secondary students.