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Ready to make waves

Posted 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Trustee Carolyn Fleckenstein Scott holds the crushed champagne bottle after christening UWL's new, state-of-the-art watercraft, the Research Vessel Prairie Springs. The $500,000 vessel promises to transform freshwater education at UWL and beyond.

UWL's new research vessel hits the water — with transformative potential in freshwater education

It’s anchors aweigh for UW-La Crosse’s new, state-of-the-art research vessel. 

Campus and community partners gathered along the Mississippi River on Tuesday, May 21, to christen the long-awaited Research Vessel Prairie Springs, and to celebrate the people and partnerships that helped make the project a reality.  

The vessel — supported by a $500,000 gift from Prairie Springs: The Paul Fleckenstein Trust to the La Crosse Community Foundation — promises to transform freshwater education at UWL and beyond. 

“It’s clearly the new flagship of the River Studies Center fleet,” says Eric Strauss, director of UWL’s River Studies Center. “It’s head and shoulders above all of our other vessels as far as its size, technology, functionality and overall ability to enhance research and learning by our students and our faculty.

The Research Vessel Prairie Springs is significantly faster, larger and more technologically advanced than other vessels in UWL's fleet.

The 32-foot aluminum watercraft is designed to support a range of research work, including water and sediment sampling, sonar-based work, mapping of river features and habitats, and more.  

Its twin 225-horsepower motors allow for a top speed around 40 mph. Additionally, the vessel’s catamaran hull has a 20-inch draft, making it well-suited for the shallow backwaters of the Mississippi River. 

Importantly, the vessel is outfitted with the same technology that young professionals in freshwater science will be expected to use in their careers, allowing them to hit the ground running as they work to address emerging issues such as water access, water quality, sustainability and climate change. 

“Training the next generation of water professionals is critical to Wisconsin’s future,” says Marissa Jablonski, executive director of the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin. “The Research Vessel Prairie Springs offers a fantastic opportunity for the Freshwater Collaborative to expand its partnership with UWL and to help students throughout the state of Wisconsin gain valuable research skills right here on the Mississippi River.” 

La Crosse-based marine construction firm JF Brennan Company, which partners with UWL on the development of curricula and research opportunities, will store and maintain the vessel. 

The Universities of Wisconsin presented JF Brennan Company with the 2024 Regents Business Partnership Award. As part of an agreement with UWL, Brennan will store and maintain the new research vessel.

During Tuesday’s celebration, the Universities of Wisconsin presented Brennan with the 2024 Regents Business Partnership Award, recognizing innovative and impactful collaborations between universities and businesses. 

“UWL and the rest of the Universities of Wisconsin are fortunate to have a company like Brennan embedded in this community,” says Regent Edmund Manydeeds III. “Brennan is an industry leader in a growing field that not only understands the importance of higher education but invests its time and resources into supporting it.” 

While it’s based in La Crosse, Brennan is involved in addressing issues related to freshwater across the United States — distributing water to populations in arid parts of the West, improving water quality in heavily polluted areas of the Midwest, and promoting water resilience and sustainability in coastal regions.

Trustees Carolyn Fleckenstein Scott and her husband, Jay Scott, funded the vessel's construction in memory of Carolyn's brother, Paul.

“As we go throughout the country and North America and work on these issues, in every location, it’s UWL graduates and UWL-trained students who are working to solve these national and global issues," says Matt Binsfeld, president and CEO of Brennan. “Through the Research Vessel Prairie Springs, which is giving young people access to one of the most incredible outdoor laboratories in this country, and through the curriculum with which we work, (we are) developing the minds that will work on these problems of great significance to our society. We are all planting seeds from which solutions will come long after our time is done.”

Trustees Carolyn Fleckenstein Scott and her husband, Jay Scott, funded the vessel’s construction in memory of Carolyn’s brother, Paul, who was a powerful proponent of environmental education and conservation. 

Paul had a boat of his own, which he called Nereus, the personification of the sea in Greek mythology. When Carolyn and Jay sold the boat following Paul’s death, they hoped to one day use those funds to support a new vessel for students and faculty who share Paul’s passion. 

Now, that dream has become a reality — one that will create ripple effects for generations to come. 

"We’re excited to partner with the outstanding faculty of UW-La Crosse to prepare leaders with experience in freshwater science,” Carolyn says. “Nereus has been transformed into the Research Vessel Prairie Springs, and I’m confident my brother, Paul, is with us today and is grateful for this opportunity.” 

The Research Vessel Prairie Springs during a rainy day on the Mississippi.


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