KU geology department purchases 600 acres of Colorado land to help continue decades-old course

photo by: Contributed photo

KU geology student Carson Rufledt works on a mapping exercise on the top of Blue Ridge in 2017. The KU geology department recently purchased 600 acres of land that makes up Blue Ridge to allow students to continue a class there each summer.

The purchase of 600 acres of land in central Colorado will make sure the University of Kansas Department of Geology can continue to teach one of its most important courses each summer.

J. Douglas Walker, a distinguished professor of geology, told the Journal-World that the department bought the land, known as Blue Ridge, from Colorado landowner Ron Gifford and his family, who have for decades allowed the department to conduct part of its six-week “field camp” class there.

The land is located in the mountains outside of Cañon City, Colo., and is ideal for the department’s course because not many other locations offer the same type of rock diversity, Walker said.

“It’s a pretty prime teaching location for us,” he said, noting that the geology department has been operating a class in the area each summer since 1922. “This area ranks up there with some of the best (rock) exposures anywhere. It’s a unique setting in that regard.”

When the Giffords recently decided they wanted to sell the property, the geology department worried that a new owner might not give the class permission to use the land.

So, the department bought it for $360,000.

The purchase makes sure students can continue to take the class, which is a degree requirement, in an optimal location, Walker said.

“It’s really an ideal setup to continue our teaching,” he said. “Essentially every (KU) geology major for the last few decades has worked in this area.”

photo by: Contributed photo

KU Geology’s field camp facility outside of Cañon City, Colo., includes a recreation hall-kitchen, which is also used as a classroom. Behind the recreation hall are two of the cabins that house students during their field courses.

Walker said the purchase also made sense because the geology department already owns about 35 acres of land nearby, which houses cabins where the students and faculty live during the course.

Additionally, the price offered was likely a steep discount, Walker said. Smaller parcels of land nearby would have cost much more per acre, he said — one 35-acre parcel was on sale for $100,000, or about $2,860 an acre, whereas each acre of the Blue Ridge site cost the geology department $600.

“If my wife had agreed, I was thinking I would just buy (the Blue Ridge site) because it was such an incredible deal,” Walker said with a laugh.

The money for the purchase came from a fund established by the family of late Lawrence resident Bob Harrison, who took the field camp course almost 90 years ago, according to a KU news release.

Beth Harrison, who is the steward of the Harrison Family Fund, said that before Bob died, he told her the geology class was one of the first places he wanted to contribute funding.

“It was a life experience that he never forgot, and he wanted to be able to assist future KU geology students to have similar opportunities,” Beth Harrison said in the release.

Along with the land purchase, the Harrison Family Fund also provides scholarship money to help students attend the field camp.

Walker said the department is happy with the way the purchase worked out.

“Everybody’s desires worked in this case,” he said.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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