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Gift secures natural classroom for KU

Land to be used for research, teaching

Submitted/KU Endowment

Suzanne Ecke McColl stands among the native grass in a parcel of land she helped purchase and donate to KU Endowment. The Suzanne Ecke McColl Nature Reserve will be part of the university's field stations and protected from potential development.

When developments spread into rural areas, human influence can have a negative impact on nearby wildlife and plants.

A Lawrence couple, Robert McColl and Suzanne Ecke McColl, and other donors are ensuring that one parcel of land – a native prairie about four miles northeast of Lawrence – will be protected from possible future development.

The land forms a natural barrier between the 10-acre Rockefeller Prairie, which is part of the KU Field Station and Ecological Reserves, and possible future development.

The McColls gave $170,000 to KU Endowment to help purchase 160 acres of rural land, which will be known as the Suzanne Ecke McColl Nature Reserve, for KU. Robert McColl retired as chair of the KU geography department in 2002. He noted his wife's interest in nature and preservation, as well as in the Lawrence and KU communities.

"She has a strong commitment to Lawrence and I thought this would be a good thing to do and leave a lasting mark for all the things she's done for KU," McColl said. "The basic idea was that we would leave something that would be a mark from both our children and us to the community."

Berry Clemens, communications coordinator for the Kansas Biological Survey, said the buffer ground is important in preserving and protecting the native prairie, which never has been plowed.

"It's the same kind of prairie that was here 150 years ago," Clemens said, noting that more than 200 plant species, including two that are federally protected, grow on the prairie.

The McColl nature reserve also protects KU's 600-acre Fitch Natural History Reservation, which has been undisturbed the past 60 years. KU uses the area for research and teaching.

"The McColls' generous gift has paved the way for establishment of a new area to support expanding ecological research and teaching programs," Clemens said, "and to create extensive public areas where visitors can learn more about their environment and the local natural heritage."

The reservation area will include more than two miles of hiking trails, demonstrations of prairie and wetland restoration, educational displays and native wildflower and medicinal plant gardens.

And there's another KU connection to the property, McColl said, adding:

"You can see the campus from the land."

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