Queen's expands property north of Kingston

Biological station enters lease-to-own agreement for a $600,000 property on Elbow Lake, an hour north of campus

Campers at Eco-Adventure use microscopes to study biological samples on Elbow Lake.
Campers at Eco-Adventure use microscopes to study biological samples on Elbow Lake.
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The Queen’s Biological Station extends across 3,000 hectares of land.
The Queen’s Biological Station extends across 3,000 hectares of land.
Photo: 

Driving on University-owned property an hour north of campus, Stephen Lougheed swerved to avoid a frog sitting on the gravel road.

“I didn’t want to hit it,” said the Queen’s professor, checking his rearview mirror. “These things are important, you know.”

Lougheed is director of the Queen’s Biological Station, a 3,000-hectare plot of land located about 100 km outside of Kingston, near Opinicon Lake. Queen’s biology professors and students have used it for research and field studies since the University bought the property 65 years ago.

Last month, officials at the biological station expanded their property with a new, half-hectare plot located 20 minutes away from the main station.

Queen’s is leasing the new property from the Nature Conservancy of Canada with plans to buy it for $600,000 after the lease expires in 2015.

Lougheed said there’s currently no funding for the purchase.

“If people spend their time worrying about raising money, then they’re not thinking about all the things we can use this land for,” Lougheed said.

Officials from the biological station are working with Queen’s Office of Advancement to find donors interested in contributing to the project.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We’re going to have to work hard and hopefully get a little lucky.”

The main camp on Opinicon Lake is a series of small cabins surrounding a large cafeteria hall. The rest of the 3,000 hectares is deciduous forest and swamp land.

With accommodations for up to 80 people, students from all over the world come to study and stay at the station.

One PhD student from the University of Texas brought his family to live on the property while conducting field research for his degree.

Due to funding limitations, Lougheed provides students with necessary research equipment with money out of his own pocket.

He said despite the struggle for funding, the biological station and new Elbow Lake property are a key part of research and field studies for the department of biology.

“One of the major functions of these biological stations is long-term research undisturbed by the prospect of development,” he said. “This is priceless data.”

800 peer-reviewed research papers have come out of the operation since its founding in 1945.

This summer, Queen’s has been operating a children’s camp at the new property on Elbow Lake. The camp, dubbed Eco-Adventure, employs Queen’s students as camp counselors.

The property used to be an employee retreat for computer company Hewlett Packard. The estate contains 27 log cabins and recreation rooms. Lougheed and his staff converted some of the cabins into make-shift laboratories for the summer camp, but the property has otherwise remained untouched.

“Even at the undergraduate level, we lose sight of the fact that we should be engaging everybody, irrespective of age or socio-economic status,” Lougheed said after arriving at the summer camp area. “I think it’s something that more people at Queen’s and other institutions should be doing.”

Lougheed said that if funded, the new Elbow Lake property could put Queen’s at the forefront of international outreach.

“I don’t think we’re reaching out to the public enough as university educators,” he said.

The current lease agreement for the Elbow Lake property puts some restrictions on the researching methods of faculty and students on site. Because Queen’s rents the property from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, even minor alterations to the land need approval.

“On occasion we might want to snip a few leaves or take a little blood and we need to consult with them about it first,” Lougheed said.

The Nature Conservancy’s Ian Barnett said that the group uses specific methods to ensure their lands aren’t disturbed by renters. Conservancy staff collect samples of plant and animal life to ensure that tenants aren’t impacting the ecosystem.

“We secure these lands because of significantly interesting plants or animals,” said Barnett, the conservancy’s vice-president of regional operations. “We’re not afraid to take some strong standards.”

Barnett said the conservancy will be patient while Queen’s looks for funding. He said if Queen’s doesn’t have the cash when the four-year lease expires, the conservancy won’t start looking for another buyer right away.

“We’re not about to sell it to somebody else,” he said “We would continue to own the land and wait until they were able to raise the money.”

Lougheed said he’s hopeful about Elbow Lake expansion.

“We’ve been ticking for over six decades, so obviously we’re doing okay.”

Driving back from the Lake Opinicon property, Lougheed stopped suddenly in the middle of the road.

“Did you hear that?” he said before rummaging around his car for binoculars.

“It’s a cerebral warbler,” he said, adding that the biological station houses one of the largest breeding populations of the endangered bird species.

Other endangered species on the Queen’s property include the Five Line Skink lizard and Grey Rat Snake.

“That’s the advantage of working on a property like this,” he said. “All the resources are at our fingertips.”

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