URI commemorates 50th anniversary of W. Alton Jones Campus

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Celebration marks role as research site, youth camp, adult retreat

WEST GREENWICH, R.I. – September 21, 2012 – The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its W. Alton Jones Campus on Sunday with a rededication event at the property’s Whispering Pines Conference Center that will feature trolley tours, scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and University officials and other dignitaries sharing favorite memories about the campus.

Named for the oil executive whose wife donated the property to URI in 1962 following his death in a plane crash, the 2,309-acre forested campus is an award-winning site for youth camps, a popular destination for weddings, and a conference center that hosts hundreds of corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations each year. It is also an important natural environment for scientific research.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s remarks at the event echo those of his late father, John Chafee, who, as governor of Rhode Island in 1964, spoke at the dedication of the campus.

“Fifty years ago, a grieving widow decided that the most fitting way to honor her late husband, W. Alton Jones, was to preserve his beloved fishing and hunting retreat for future generations to learn from and enjoy,” said Gov. Chafee. “Now, half a century later, the people of the state of Rhode Island continue to benefit from this remarkable decision, from the generosity of Nettie Marie Jones and the foresight of the University of Rhode Island officials who led the acquisition. This milestone anniversary is truly a cause for celebration and appreciation.”

“For many people in New England, a visit to the W. Alton Jones Campus is the first experience they have with the University of Rhode Island, and it provides an excellent first impression,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “The campus provides tremendous value to the University, especially to our research scientists, and I’m pleased to join in celebrating its anniversary.”

A yearlong celebration of the Alton Jones Campus’ anniversary has included publication of a book about its history, a series of nature walks, and reunions of the staff of the Environmental Education Center and the Executive MBA Program, which was held entirely on the campus. A dedication of a telescope and observatory on the property will take place in November.

“We’re a unique facility in New England,” said Thomas H. Mitchell, director of the campus. “Nowhere else can you go that combines a research forest with a retreat for adults and an environmental classroom for children. It has been an exciting year of celebrating our anniversary, and I’m pleased that we have drawn attention to the programs we provide to the region and our unique history.”

That history includes visits to the campus by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 and 1960 and the King of Nepal in 1960, all of which took place when W. Alton Jones owned the property, which he used as a hunting and fishing refuge. Under URI ownership, the property has been used by the state police as a temporary “safe house” for an organized crime informant and as the set for a Hollywood movie starring Cybill Shepherd and Wesley Snipes. One day in 1976, a helicopter carrying former Gov. Philip Noel crashed on campus while carrying him to a meeting there.

“I am pleased to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of Rhode Island’s W. Alton Jones campus,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed. “This is a special place with a unique history. I think the title of Todd McLeish’s book about the campus sums it up nicely: Rhode Island’s Natural Laboratory. This is a great place for students of all ages to study nature. It is also a wonderful environment for conferences, weddings, and other special events that bring business to Rhode Island from all over the world.”

“Thanks to URI, what was once a private estate is today an invaluable resource for researchers, students, and organizations,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “Perhaps the most important gift of the Alton Jones Campus is that children who come here leave with a lifelong connection to nature. I hope that Rhode Islanders will continue to reap the benefits of this beautiful forest and farmland for another 50 years.”