Image: Class looking at wildlife at the field station

History of the Northwoods Field Station

The Northwoods Field Station, formerly known as the Hiawatha Campus, was the vision of Professor Walter Rea Knight (Department of Psychology and Biology). Rea was inspired by the success of Prof Barrow in establishing what was formerly called the Biology Station (now the James H. Barrow Biological Field Station). His research interest in thirteen-lined ground squirrels and his love for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan sparked discussions of establishing a rustic field station in the wilderness of the UP. As Rea put it, he was “committed to working for the development of opportunities and facilities to make it possible for others to engage in this kind of experiential learning in close harmony with the natural world, and expanding the classroom into daily living.”

Beginning in 1970, with donor support by Ed Kennedy and Alan Austin and the aid of the Forest Service, Rea pursued his dream of purchasing land and secured property on Cherry Lake. In 1976, the first cabin was built and construction of the lodge began the following summer. Construction continued through 1979 and included a total of six sleeping cabins, the main lodge, and two composting privies. Everything was built by faculty and students using only hand tools and chain saws as electrical lines were not (and are still not) within reach of camp. They constructed the walls and roofs from Norway pine logs weighing as much as a ton. They had to dig their way through sand and hardpan to make wells for water and raised and repaired a damaged windmill to pump water into their gravity-fed system. This was not easy work. Many of the students were amateurs and the logs were incredibly heavy.

Rea envisioned the Hiawatha Campus not simply as a science center but a commitment to the liberal arts. In the early years, students took courses in botany, geology, astronomy, genetics, natural history, creative writing, photography, storytelling, and ethics and gained valuable research experience alongside Rea. Today, students still spend time at Northwoods for coursework, field research projects, maintenance and construction, to open and close camp, sometimes as the summer caretaker, and for the freshmen experience. Each year alumni return to Northwoods to remember their time as students, share their memories, and enjoy the peace and beauty of camp.

“When we committed ourselves to the Station development, Jan and I said to each other, ‘It is worth ten years of our lives.’ Our 19 years there went by all too swiftly”—Rea Knight

Walter Rea Knight’s book, “The Early Years of the Hiram College Northwoods Field Station”, tells the full history of the field station and is available for purchase. Proceeds go to the Paul David Knight Memorial Scholarship Fund. This scholarship was established by Rea and Jan in memory of their son, Paul Knight, who spent many of his own hours building and maintaining the camp.