Helping Out


This Land Is Your Land

Prof. Emeritus Milo Harpstead officially donates his longstanding field lab to UWSP

Jeanne Nagle | April 28, 2020 | Helping Out 

The 22-acre parcel of land in nearby Polonia, along Hillcrest Road, has quite a history. Ages ago, it was the glacial birthplace of an ice-walled lake bed, the remnants of which form a flat-topped hill that today is considered one of the highest features in Portage County. In the first half of the 20th century, the acreage was part of a working farm, the soil of which nurtured crops such as corn, oats and potatoes. Starting in 1961, newly hired College of Natural Resources faculty member Dr. Milo Harpstead took a group of students to obtain glacial-moraine road cuts from a ditch along the land’s north boundary. Thirteen years later, Harpstead bought the 60-acre farm that contained the field from which his University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students had been collecting samples, thus officially transforming the plot into a soil sciences field laboratory.

And as of April 1 (no fooling!), the land became the rightful property of the university when Harpstead signed over the deed to this portion of his farm to the UWSP Foundation. The land, which is "to be managed by and for the benefit of the College of Natural Resources," henceforth shall be known as Milo Acres.

Harpstead expects the college and university to continue using the land for soil-science research and experimentation, as it has for decades. But he also would like to see the scope of the land’s use expand to include “any field of natural resources and earth science.” In his mind, there is no shortage of programs and majors that could take advantage of his generous gift.

“It can be a field laboratory for forestry, wildlife, waste management, water science, cartography, geology, etcetera,” he says.

Although he himself grew up on a farm, Harpstead never had aspirations of becoming a gentleman farmer when he and his wife, Ruth, purchased the property in Polonia. Early on they had rented a portion of the remaining acreage to fellow UWSP Prof. Donald Huff, whose Huff Plantations grew Christmas trees and nursery stock that was sold across the country. Additional acreage was rented to a neighbor, who rotates corn and alfalfa on the parcel to this day.

Instead of raising crops, Harpstead elected to work the soil in a different way. Engaging students via field trips is a concept he traces back to his graduate school days as a master’s candidate teaching assistant at South Dakota State University, as well as an instructor working on his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. He continued the field-trip tradition when he came to UWSP, helping students take advantage of the wealth of information to be gleaned from sampling the glacial moraine that naturally occurs only miles from the Point campus. The goal of such an exercise is to help students “interpret soil maps for any use wherever they may be in the world, once they become aware of their local conditions,” he says.

Since retiring from UWSP in 1992, Harpstead has continued to welcome students onto the land for field study. Stephen Menzel, UWSP senior director of development with CNR, estimates that, to date, more than 11,000 soil science students have benefitted from using the land as a lab.

At age 90, Harpstead keeps busy maintaining the homestead portion of the farm, which he still owns. “I value my boyhood experience on the farm,” he says, “and I enjoy working with tractors, the mowing equipment and the snow removal in the winter. The buildings include a well-kept timber barn, which has become a relic of agriculture as it used to be.” Antique cars and tractors, which Harpstead restores, are housed in the farm’s barn and other outbuildings.

“The land … has brought much enjoyment to our family,” he says.

Now Harpstead feels the time has come to share the joy by donating the undeveloped field that, in a way, generations of CNR soil scholars have come to think of as their own.

“I was privileged to play a lead role in the development of the Soil Science program, so that our graduates could qualify for employment as soil scientists and soil conservationists with the USDA,” Harpstead notes proudly. “I feel that the opportunity to train young minds was so rewarding that I should give something back as I face old age looming before me.”


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