UW’s camp in northern woods, victim of economic downturn, put up for sale

Posted October 2, 2016

Pigeon Lake Field Station, an educational camp in northern Wisconsin that has been under the stewardship of UW-River Falls for almost 35 years, has been put up for sale.

Located near Drummond in the Chequamegon National Forest, the facility is owned by the Board of Commissioners of Public Land (BCPL), leased by the UW System and has been operated by UWRF since 1982.

The camp was used by UW System to offer courses in art, biology, business and teacher education. It was also used by private groups.

Buildings on the grounds include 16 resident cabins, four suite-style cabins, a dining hall, four academic buildings, four bathroom facility buildings, a lodge, a maintenance garage, a storage shed and kilns.

“It used to be a very popular destination to go to,” said Cara Rubis, director of the University Center and dining operations. Rubis was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the camp. “A lot of times a few different campuses throughout the UW System would send their resident assistants up there for week-long training, cross country teams would train up there. Classes would be taught up there where students throughout the UW System could take classes for credit.”

With the downturn of the economy in 2008-2009 and decreasing interest in Pigeon Lake programs, the camp began to struggle financially. The camp has been closed since October 2014.

“(With the camp) not being mission critical to system and not being mission critical to UWRF, I was directed to work with BCPL and UW System to divest our interest in Pigeon Lake,” said Gregg Heinselman, the associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “So we have been on a course for three years to do that. BCPL met in May of 2016 to approve the sale of the property and UW System and the Board of Regents in June met to approve the sale.”

BCPL, UW System and UWRF will divide the money from the sale of the camp and UWRF hopes to balance its current negative budget from the money that was invested into upkeep of the camp.

According to UW System Board of Regents documents, “the property will be offered at a minimum bid price equal to the appraised value of $1,325,000.”

Dale Braun, campus planner, attended the camp as a UWRF student in 1980 for resident assistant training, and then again as a UWRF staff member in the early 1990s.

“I particularly enjoyed the meals in the dining hall because they were served family style and we sat with different people during each meal,” Braun said of his time there as a student. “Also, we had some great conversations around the campfire in the evenings. And one evening I took a canoe ride out in the moonlight.”

In the 1990s, Braun led a combined effort of camp staff and planners from the UW System administration office to come up with different concept plans for the camp. None of those were ever put into place.

“I saw at that time that the State of Wisconsin would never be able to invest significant funds into the camp, which was unfortunate,” Braun said. “So, now as we are working with the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, it’s sad to see the potential of the camp unrealized.”