University welcomes input for The Priory

Committee chair to hold summit to decide how best to use grounds

Story by Courtney Kueppers, Copy Editor

Three miles south of campus lies more than 100 acres of university land ­—­­ or a world of possibilities, Garry Running, professor of geography and anthropology, said.

Blugold Real Estate purchased The Priory, formerly St. Bede’s Monastery, in October 2011. It is now home to 20 university students, UW-Eau Claire Children’s Nature Academy and 112 mostly wooded acres.

The UW-Eau Claire Priory Advisory Council asked Running to convene a grounds and gardens committee made up of university and community members to make recommendations to the council on how to use the land at The Priory.

Running will hold a summit from 8:30 a.m. until noon April 19 at The Priory to hear ideas from people and organizations in the community. From there, Running hopes to form the committee and start making suggestions, he said.

Running said his goal for the priory includes gardens, green houses, experimental areas for long-term monitoring and food plots for wildlife among other things.

“What I would really like to see is a lot of different things going on,” Running said. “Mostly I want to see what people want. I’d like to see it as a place where UW-Eau Claire, CVTC, Eau Claire Area school district and the public do things together.”

Eau Claire alum Joe Weirich, a volunteer for an on-campus student organization called Foodlums, said The Priory would be a great site for some projects the organization has been working on.

Foodlums has been restricted to the garden in the Phillips courtyard in the past but The Priory could be an opportunity for them to break out of their shell and do bigger projects; they plan on voicing that at the summit, he said.

“What we are trying to do is an edible landscape, projects that don’t require much maintenance but would still benefit,” Weirich said.

The organization wants to grow fruit trees and bushes, he said.

Senior David Pierce is among the inaugural group of students living at The Priory this school year. Pierce said he supports the university taking advantage of the land at The Priory. The presence of more university students wouldn’t bother the residents because there is more than enough ground, he said.

“A garden would be a great idea, it’s a great natural place to be able to study things,” he said. “I think there’s enough ground for everyone to use without there being a shortage.”

Running is inviting as many stakeholders as possible to attend the summit while pinning down who those stakeholders are, he said.

“I’m hoping that I can convince some participants at the summit to sit on the committee,” Running said. “Then there would actually be a real committee from the stakeholders who seem interested in making decisions that matter to them.”

Beyond using the vast acreage for educational purposes, Running said he hopes there is a food security spin to the project also.

“We have a lot of people around here that don’t know if they are going to have dinner,” Running said. “So if we can grow some food that can provide particularly the fresh fruits and vegetables that are really hard for food insecure people to get, well why wouldn’t we do that?”