Student Life at the Station

The Station's 49-acre campus lies completely inside of Itasca State Park, on the eastern shore of Lake Itasca. There is no better place to learn about North American natural history and to witness nature, and there are few field stations that can make such an immersion experience as comfortable, welcoming, and meaningful as the Itasca Station. All are welcome, and the faculty and staff are here to help you join our community with an eye for inclusion, safety, productivity, and fun. This page is your guide to living and learning at the Station.

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Station Policies and Code of Conduct

Station Policies

All students at the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories are expected to read and comply with the IBSL's Station Policies and Code of Conduct. Because of our location within Itasca State Park, station users are also required to comply with all Minnesota State Park Rules. Non-compliance with IBSL policies, code of conduct, or State Park Rules may result in disciplinary action. 

Lodging and Dining

Lodging

All students will lodge in the station bunkhouses. Camping or off-site housing is not allowed for Field Biology students. No guests or pets are allowed at the station. Bunkhouses sleep 6-10 students. All bunkhouses have electricity and heat, but no air conditioning. The station will provide fans for cooling. Some bunkhouses have running water (toilet and sink). There are central bathhouses with toilets and individual locking stalls with hot showers. 

Dining

All students will eat in our station dining hall; students do not have access to kitchen facilities to prepare their own meals. Meals are self-served buffet-style. The first meal is dinner on arrival day and the final meal is brunch the day after courses end. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served on weekdays, and brunch and dinner on weekends. In addition to climate-controlled indoor seating, there are picnic tables outside, which allow students to take their meals on the shore of Lake Itasca. See section on Health, Safety, and Accessibility tab for information on dietary restriction accommodations.

Travel and Transportation

Getting to the Station

The Itasca Biological Station is located nearly 4 hours away from our main University campus in the Twin Cities. Students can travel to Itasca in their own vehicles - parking is available at the station. Students may join a station-organized carpool from the Saint Paul campus in an Itasca course minivan. Students may also carpool with other enrolled students or get a ride. Non-registered guests may drop a student off, but station use is restricted to registered users. Please note: all vehicles entering the state park are required to display a MN State Park permit, even if they are just dropping someone off. Permits can be purchased when entering the park or ahead of time from the MN DNR website.

Transportation at the Station

During the course session students will travel with their classes to and from sites away from the station. The station has designated vehicles specifically for this purpose. These vehicles may not be used for personal reasons. Outside of course field trips, students are generally expected to stay on campus or in the State Park for the entire session. In extenuating circumstances, students must sign out if they need to miss a meal or leave the station overnight. This is for your own safety, and so that IBSL staff and the State Park know who is inside the Park overnight.

Health, Safety, and Accessibility

Healthcare access

As a University of Minnesota field station, we follow all University of Minnesota policies as they relate to vaccination requirements, housing, dining, classroom, laboratory, and field safety. Itasca is a semi-remote field station with some amenities but there are also some important considerations related to isolation and the realities of nature. The nearest hospital or clinic is in Park Rapids, which is a 35 minute drive from the station. We do not have a health professional on-staff at Itasca, but for the duration of the Field Bio program we will have a designated 'point person' staff member who will be the point of contact in the event of an emergency. This health point person will have access to student’s health information and have a summary of students’ known health conditions. In the event that a student needs urgent medical care, the point person can help manage situations and provide transport to the Hospital in Park Rapids.

Prior to the start of courses, students will be asked to fill out a Health Release form. Everyone is required to have hospitalization insurance, whether obtained through the University of Minnesota or an outside source. Students should bring their health insurance card with policy number, ID number, and insurance carrier phone number, with them to the Station.

Allergies and dietary restrictions

Students will receive a questionnaire prior to the start of the session to gather information about allergies and dietary restrictions. Students should report known health conditions that could impact their participation in the field, such as bee sting allergies, so this information can be shared with staff and instructors. Our kitchen staff is familiar and experienced with accommodating special dietary needs, and dishes are strictly prepared and labeled for people with food allergies. We provide vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and other dietary options as needed. The kitchen will attempt to accommodate requests, but it may not be possible to prepare separate options to meet requests for every meal.

Learning accommodations

Students who require learning accommodations should work with the UMN Disability Resource Center (DRC) and should provide documentation to their instructors ahead of arrival at the station. Program staff will gather information about other accommodation needs or concerns related to our Living-Learning Community through the Student “Before You Come” Questionnaire and during our “Setting Living-Learning Community Standards” meeting.

Internet and Cell Service

Cell phone service at the station may not be reliable, depending on your carrier (Verizon seems to have the best coverage at Itasca Station). Wireless internet is available across the station on the University's eduroam network.

Mail and Packages

Students may receive mail and packages at the station, but be mindful that it must all be sorted by station staff. Any mail or packages for students will be left in a designated area in the Biome Center; students are responsible for checking for expected deliveries. Mail and packages may also take longer to reach you at the station, due to its remote location. The station is not responsible to shipping mail or packages received for individuals that have departed the station. The mailing address of the station is: 

UMN Itasca Biological Station
28131 University Circle
Lake Itasca, MN 56470

Laundry

There are free laundry facilities in the station bathhouses (bring your own detergent). With sustainability in mind, please make sure loads are full to make the most of a load. Consider combining clothes with another resident if needed. 

Activities

Organized activities

Station staff and volunteer field guides lead outdoor activities for students, including paddling trips, bike rides, hikes, fishing trips etc. Volunteer field guides are former field biology professionals who are invited by the station to introduce students to recreational opportunities in the Park and share their career pathways. The station also runs a weekly seminar series where faculty and visiting scientists share their research. Students have low-stakes opportunities to share their research with the community during our "no mic" nights.

In addition to these station-organized activities, the State Park runs a variety of nature-focused programs that students are encouraged to join in their free time.

Self-guided recreation

Because the station is situated within Itasca State Park, there are ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, both on our station campus and in the park, including biking, hiking, fishing, hammocking, swimming, canoeing and kayaking. The station provides canoes and kayaks for students to use. There are also bikes and helmets available to check out. Students are also encouraged to bring their own bikes and helmets if they would like - there are great paved biking trails in the park. Students are also encouraged to bring their own fishing gear. 

Bikes parked outside the dining hall at Itasca Station

Field Conditions

Weather

Late spring and summer weather in northern Minnesota is variable and can quickly change from warm and sunny to chilly, windy, and rainy. Dressing in layers helps keep you comfortable in the field. Opt for synthetic or wool clothes (avoid cotton), as they will keep you warm when wet (see packing list). In the event of severe weather there are storm shelters in various locations around campus. Students will be oriented to storm shelter locations at the start of the session.

Pesky bugs and plants

Mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects are an inevitable part of field work in the North Woods. Poison ivy and other irritation causing plants are also found in the park. The station provides headnets, insect repellant, and tall boots. Students are encouraged to wear long sleeves and long pants to prevent exposure, and treat field clothing with permethrin to repel ticks. Students are also encouraged to visit the Minnesota Department of Health website to learn more about preventing tick-born diseases and view their informational videos.

We share the Park with wildlife, including black bears. Though encounters are rare, the session orientation will cover how to handle an unlikely encounter. (Hint: don't be like the tourists at Yellowstone that end up in the news after trying to pet the bison or in Smokey National Park that try to cuddle with black bears!)

What to Bring

The “what to bring” list below covers the basics of what you'll need at the Itasca Station. You will likely spend significant amounts of time outdoors, in the elements, so you will need to come prepared with the clothing and gear you need. By having the right clothes and personal items, you’ll be able to enjoy your experience through a variety of weather conditions. 

Spring and summer weather in northern Minnesota can quickly change from sunny and warm to cool and wet. In May it will get chilly at night - bring cool weather clothes/blankets. Poison ivy, ticks, and mosquitoes are common. Avoid wearing cotton clothes in the field; synthetic fabrics like polypropylene and fleece are better fabrics for keeping you dry and comfortable. Wool is also good for cool days. Expect that your clothes will be well used and will get dirty, so leave your nice clothes at home! You can also view or download a printable version of this packing list.


Field Gear
  • Durable, fast-drying long pants
  • Lightweight, synthetic long sleeve shirt
  • Hiking boots or old sneakers  [Note: “muck” boots in all sizes available at Itasca for students to borrow]
  • Fleece jacket
  • Rain jacket & rain pants
  • Wool or polypropylene socks
  • Hat with brim for sun protection
  • Wool, polypropylene or fleece hat
  • Synthetic long underwear bottom and top
  • Insect headnet or jacket (the Station will provide headnets)
  • Day backpack (large enough for water, lunch, snacks, extra clothing layers and rain gear)
  • Permethrin to treat clothing for ticks
Clothing
  • Everyday socks/underwear
  • Sneakers/comfortable walking shoes
  • Durable sandals to wear in the water
  • Sweatshirt or sweater
  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Long pants
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit 
  • Flip flops or shower shoes (for bathhouse)
Linens
  • Pillow
  • Bedding for a regular twin bed (twin sized sheets & warm comforter, or sleeping bag)
  • Extra blanket (it can still be chilly at the station in mid-May)
  • Bath towel
  • Beach towel
Personal Items
  • Water bottle
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo/conditioner)
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Over the counter medications (Advil, Tylenol, Benadryl)
  • Prescription medications with copies of any prescriptions
  • Sunscreen and chapstick
  • Bug repellent
  • Laundry detergent
  • Sunglasses
  • Notebooks (Rite In The Rain notebooks have water resistant paper are useful), pencils, pens
  • Laptop, external USB thumb drive (to print on station computers)
  • Calculator
  • Bike/helmet
  • Fishing gear
  • Hammock and straps
  • Portable “camp” chair
  • Games, book, art supplies
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Batteries
  • Rapid COVID tests and thermometer for personal use
Course Materials

Instructors will contact students about specific course materials

  • Notebooks (Rite In The Rain notebooks have water resistant paper are useful), pencils, pens
  • Laptop, external USB thumb drive (to print on station computers)
  • Calculator
Gear Retailers

Great field clothing can often be found inexpensively at Army Surplus Stores, Goodwill and other thrift stores, along with any old clothes you have at home. If you need to buy new, here is a list of retailers that sells outdoor clothing and gear:

*stores with Twin Cities locations