Green Oaks Biological Field Station

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Lake Sharvey in Spring.

The Green Oaks Biological Field Station, known more simply as Green Oaks, was originally a grain farm owned and operated by Knox alum Alvah Green, class of 1890. It was entrusted to Knox in 1958 as part of Alvah's estate to be used as a biological research station. From the Knox website:

Green Oaks is located near the Spoon River in western Knox County, about 20 miles east of the Knox campus. Both a research and recreation area, Green Oaks encompasses 700 acres of forest, grassland and aquatic habitat and includes the second-oldest restored tall-grass prairie in North America.[1]

The Green Oaks program is administrated through the Special Programs sector of the Office of Academic Affairs. Professor Jon Wagner is the current program director.

Green Oaks is one of the best parts of Knox. Once trees start leafing out again in spring term, go there. Glass bottles are discouraged. Pack out what you pack in, and don't shit up the place.

Prairie Burns[edit]

In the 1950s, as part of restoring the prairie at Green Oaks, Knox Biology Professor [[Paul Shepard]] developed specific burn cycles to mimic the periodic conflagrations that America's great plains would experience. The burn renews the chemical balance of the earth, and kills invading, non-prairie species such as trees and forest scrub, while allowing fire tolerant species such as tall grass to spread.

If you've never seen a prairie burn, you're missing out. This is the most spectacular event you'll see during your Knox career. Once fire is set to the dry grass, though often slow-starting at first, the prairie will burn at an alarming rate, often creating its own wind patterns, resulting in plumes of fire 60 feet tall, crossing the plain as fast as a speeding car. The people who don't understand why this is Knox's mascot have probably never been confronted with a swirling wall of fire as wide as a football field is long, suddenly turing their direction while moving at 60 miles per hour, leaving a wake of death and devastation.

The Green Oaks Mission Statement[edit]

Knox College is committed to the continuing stewardship of Green Oaks and to the enhancement of its contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of the College, in keeping with the visionary aspirations that were articulated at the time of Green Oaks’ founding.

The College envisions Green Oaks as a resource for learning across the curriculum, ranging through such diverse subject areas as environmental studies, biology, regional history and prehistory, general education and preceptorial courses, and the creative arts including painting, photography and writing.

These educational uses may be pursued in various situational settings including formal field trips, extended residential programs, individual honors or other student projects, and informal visits to the site.[2]

Green Oaks Term[edit]

During spring term every other year, Green Oaks Term is offered as an "interdisciplinary, residential experience." Students attending Green Oaks Term live in Schurr Hall, a converted barn that now serves as dorm, lab, cafeteria and flophouse. Though students from all departments are encouraged to attend (as many as 12 per term), and curriculum from almost any discipline can adapted to the unique environment that Green Oaks offers, most Green Oaks students come from the Biology and Environmental Studies departments.

Often, the Oakies need some help finding out that it's Flunk Day. Be kind. Give them a call early. Rumor has it that John Lane is offering a substantial reward to the first person to call 309-635-4289 on flunk day. Conversely, he and Quinn Palar will drive to campus and beat your ass if you call at 2am and it is not, in fact, flunk day.

The Oakies also love visitors. Sadly, visitors are only allowed on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, making Saturday the only day visitors can spend the night. On the other hand, the Oakies are by and large very good cooks, and will happily feed you if given a bit of advance warning (you know: cooking for fifteen, cooking for sixteen... same thing really). Their dorm number is 309-879-2483. Sometimes they have barn raves in the barn adjacent to their house. You probably won't be lucky enough to participate in one though.

Lake Sharvey[edit]

Named for former Knox President Sharvey G. Umbeck, Lake Sharvey was created from the remains of an old quarry. It's now home to a number of beavers, fish, and other wildlife. Lake Sharvey is supposed to have some of the cleanest water in the area.

Green Oaks Related Staff[edit]

  • Stuart Allison - Biology professor, Director of the Green Oaks Program.
  • Joe Diviney - the Green Oaks caregiver. Joe usually works in Telecommunications, but lives at Green Oaks. If you show up late trying to camp, or without calling ahead to let Joe know that you're coming, he will rule you. If you're very lucky you might get to try his fried mushrooms.
  • Jon Wagner - he hangs out there sometimes. If you're lucky, he'll bring his banjo.

Local Species[edit]

Beaver on the Lake Sharvey shore

Native Species[edit]

  • Beaver
  • Heron
  • Various fish

Rare and Endangered Species[edit]

  • Henslow's sparrow[3]
  • Four-toed salamander[4]

Also, there are huge crayfish in the streams. They might be endangered, depending on which kind of crayfish they are. Rule of thumb: leave the crayfish alone.

External Resources[edit]


  1. Green Oaks - from the Knox College Website
  2. Green Oaks Mission Statement - from the Knox College Website
  3. Henslow's sparrow - an article from Wikipedia
  4. Four-toed Salamander - an article from Wikipedia