Faculty, staff tour river research facility "All I can say is WOW," exclaimed John Day, dean of Fine Arts at The University of South Dakota, as his van drove into the parking lot of the new research, interpretive, and conference center located in Ponca State Park, NE.
Day's reaction was reflected in the comments of the other educators and administrators from the university taking part in a tour of the facility.
The new Missouri National River Resource and Education Center (MNRREC) is a large part of the $22 million improvement and development project underway in the park. Part of this new construction encompasses the newly established University of South Dakota Research Wing, which will be home to the Missouri River Institute (MRI).
The center is not due to open until this fall, but John Kingsbury, President of the Better Ponca Foundation, organized the tour to introduce the facility to the university and surrounding community. Among those present were President Jim Abbott and Vermillion Mayor Roger Kozak.
The center is home to the park's offices, a $1.6 million interpretive center and a conference facility capable of accommodating 250-300 people. The 1,600 square foot research facility will have wet and dry labs, a classroom and office space.
"We wanted this space to be publicly accessible," said Brian Molyneaux, co-director of the MRI. "We want the public to see what research is being done and that we're not hiding away. Research is something ordinary people are doing and we want the public to see us in motion."
"As the new center is located on the Missouri River at the heart of the basin where upper and lower portions meet, it is an ideal place to center research, education and outreach for the entire drainage system from Montana to Missouri," said Bruce Barton, also co-director of the MRI.
The opening this fall of the research center will further enhance the MRI's role as a regional institute, Barton added. Addition of this wing provides a research station on the river that will support environmental field studies with on-site data analysis and interpretation.
The MRI, which was established in 1999, will now have a physical presence on the river.
"This will greatly aid in our mission to develop and promote scholarly research, education, and public awareness related to the natural and cultural resources of the Missouri River basin," Barton said.
The MRI will also be involved at the new center with some aspects of the university's Lewis and Clark Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program and will host the annual Missouri River Research Symposium.
Kingsbury said the park currently has about 400,000 visitors annually but predicts this will increase to as many as 700,000. Ponca Mayor Earl "Skip" Bogard, who was also present, was more optimistic and predicted 1.5 million visitors annually within five years.
"(Whatever the increase is) this will be a great opportunity for an exchange between the university and the public," said Kingsbury. "I expect this public interest to bring in study grants."