March 26, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 41°F


Committee aims to protect college-owned natural lands

Many students call Ithaca College home, but a few forested areas on campus that local wildlife call home often fly under the community’s radar.
The Ithaca College Natural Lands Committee, a group of students, faculty and staff committed to protecting wooded areas owned by the college, launched a new Web site earlier this month to inform students about these areas. The committee, created in 2005 to advise the college about preserving the land, maintains about 500 acres of unused land owned by the college.

The South Hill Natural Area, which spans 365 acres behind the Terraces, is the largest of three environmental areas owned by

the college. The college also owns two other patches of land: the Bob Robinson Family Preserve and the Ithaca College Natural Resource Reserve. Both are located about 20 minutes away in Newfield and were acquired in the 1970s when Bob Robinson, an Ithaca resident and Cornell University graduate, donated the 130-acre plot of land to the college.

Jason Hamilton, associate professor of biology, said Robinson was an environmental enthusiast and made the donation with the hope that the college would protect the land’s natural character.

Many professors were not aware the college owned these lands, and they were quickly forgotten for a number of years, Hamilton said.

In 2001, the college began to focus on its sustainability initiative, which helped draw attention to the college’s wildlife areas.

A temporary group called the Ithaca College Natural Areas Stewardship Committee was created in 2004 to advise the college about cutting down trees in the college’s forested space. Less than a year later, the group was reorganized as a permanent fixture to oversee the ongoing development and preservation of the environment.

At the committee’s Oct. 10 meeting, members discussed issues ranging from spreading garlic mustard seeds in the natural lands to an ideal location for the purposed wind tower.

Hamilton said one of the biggest problems facing the Committee is striking a balance between recreation, preservation and education in the South Hill area. Unlike the Newfield areas, the South Hill area has no limitations regarding preservation or alteration.

“South Hill is very much an unanswered question,” said Marian Brown, special assistant to the provost and a member of the committee.

Because there are no restrictions on the South Hill area, Brown said the Committee hopes to encourage students to conduct environmental research without harming the area’s biodiversity.

Some students, like senior environmental studies major Elizabeth Gwinn, have already started using the natural lands for research projects. Some of Gwinn’s recent projects include creating management plans for the Newfield area and finding a solution for the garlic mustard plants that are invading the lands.

“The best thing about it is that it’s real, it’s not just a project,” Gwinn said. “It’s real work.”

The group recently cleared trees out from the Newfield areas, which will be used to make tables for the new Gateway Building.

“We’re going to use our own sustainable logged wood to build furniture,” said Hamilton.

Other sustainability efforts, including forest gardening, are still being discussed.

Hamilton said the group is hoping to recruit new members this year to expand sustainability opportunities for the campus community.

“[The group] really gives them the chance to see what they’re protecting.”