100-year plan

The timeline for completing work at North Dakota State University's Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) started some 10 years ago and continues for at least 100 years.

The timeline for completing work at North Dakota State University's Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) started some 10 years ago and continues for at least 100 years.

For now, though, the immediate concern is finding a place for an expanded parking lot.

"We want to minimize access to the parking lot but recognize we need a parking lot," DREC Director Dr. Kris Ringwall said.

Ringwall said the current parking lot, located just west of the old building, can hold about 15 cars but the expansion would double its size. The finished size would be ¼ to ½ acre.

In planning the lot, the first concern is safety, Ringwall said. He said the corner of Empire Road and State Avenue is one of the busiest intersections in Dickinson and one utilized by many youths.


"The center is all about living things," Ringwall said. "There's nothing here we don't take seriously. We don't just jump at things."

Living things means more than the children crossing the road; it's also everything from the trees to birds to prairie grass. As an example of the DREC's commitment to living things, Ringwall said architects moved the location of the new DREC building simply to save one oak tree that could not be moved.

"We believe in what we do," Ringwall said. "It's agriculture, natural resources, ecology, and we're not willing to budge on that."

Location, location, location

Along with safety concerns, Ringwall worries about protecting the sanctuary that extension center employees have created throughout the past 100-plus years.

"We didn't want cars going 35 miles per hour through the grounds," Ringwall said.

He added that while the DREC employees like to get people out on the grounds, they are also conscious of limiting availability.

Though Ringwall said the DREC would continue to act as an ideal spot for family, wedding and prom photographs, he remarked it's not the same as a city-run park.


"Our directive is to do education and research," assistant Director Frank Kutka said. "In doing so, we create a lot of opportunities to enjoy life here."

Trees lining the grounds provide a windbreak for research as well as offering a nice view, Kutka said. The crabapple trees while pretty were once part of a research project.

Ringwall said locations for a parking lot closer to the building are not ideal. They add to the congestion on State Avenue, allow for poor visibility for employees pulling out of the parking lot or would result in cutting down a number of trees that cannot be moved.

"Let's just say there's not a lot of interest in adding to the congestion," Ringwall said.

In the end, an expansion of the current lot site made the most sense. It helped there were already a number of trees slated to be cut in the area.

"We do not want the trees to go, but we have to deal with reality and reality's tough," Ringwall said.

Kutka added, "We don't want branches falling on visitors."

The trees that were cut in the future parking lot area either should have been cut years ago or had been destroyed by the October 2005 blizzard, according to Ringwall. Many of them looked good, but they were growing in an unhealthy way.


Ringwall said another factor is that past trees were over-planted, which resulted in too many trees in a single area.

"Our philosophy is to save whatever we can," Ringwall said.

He said, however, the cost is about $100 apiece to save trees.

Gathering input

Though Ringwall said the DREC did not gather input from the general public, it did meet with numerous advisory committees. The plans were also presented to officials from the city and to the state Legislature.

In coming up with the plan for the overall area, the DREC utilized architects from Hulsing & Associates in Dickinson and landscape architects from Land Elements in Fargo.

"The other thing we went with for input is to pick on young people, because they're going to be here longer," Kutka said.

He said that meant working with Marcus Lund, a landscape architecture intern, who created a design charette that led to the overall philosophy of the grounds. A charette is visual brainstorming.


"He saw the prairie lands as having a heartbeat," Kutka said.

The painting includes an image of the building, as well as a web of connections meant to symbolize that soil, water, people, economic and political forces, among others, link everything.

"We have done tremendous changes, and change is hard," Ringwall said. "We're preparing for the next 100 years. The parking lot is part of that."

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