Students in the Natural Resources & Ecology: Farming the Forest class found their maple syrup production equipment on South Hill intentionally damaged Saturday morning. About 40 of 75 taps and hooks were destroyed, amounting to $300 worth of damage, an estimate made by Professor Jason Hamilton.
The course gives students the opportunity to learn about forest products through three projects: edible mushroom cultivation, maple syrup and beekeeping, and honey harvesting. The sugarbush, which is an area of maple trees, is located toward the southeast side of Ithaca College Natural Lands, almost to Troy Road. The syrup production project is in its fifth year.
Sophomore Stephanie Bartzick, a student in the class and one of the four who visited the site Saturday, said the damage was upsetting.
“We were looking at the hooks that hold the buckets and they were snipped,” Bartzick said. “And the taps, which the sap comes out of, were all taken.”
The buckets on the ground were empty, and Bartzick estimated a loss of 20 to 30 gallons of sap.
Senior Todd Aldrich, former class participant and current teaching assistant, said he was upset by the vandalism but proud of the students’ reaction.
“I was pretty angry when I saw it. I take a lot of personal pride in this project,” Aldrich said. “I was also very pleased to see what a quick response the rest of the class had.”
The students notified the Office of Public Safety on Saturday. Sergeant Ron Hart said they are looking into the incident.
“We have an ongoing investigation, and it’s basically just unsolved at this point,” he said.
Bartzick said students have been monitoring the site since the discovery on Saturday. Every day until about 10 p.m. students take shifts spending time at the site.
Aldrich hopes that monitoring will not continue through the week.
“I don’t think there will be much of a need to keep guard after [Tuesday],” he said. “It doesn’t seem like they’ll be coming back.”
Hart said this is the first incident of purposeful damages to the forest products operation.
“They’ve been doing this for several years, and to my knowledge this is the first time they’ve had any kind of vandalism or any tampering whatsoever out there,” Hart said.
The damage was different than typical vandalism, Hamilton said, because rather than blatant destruction the damage seemed more purposeful and organized.
“This was more like sabotage in the sense that it was very methodical, and it wasn’t just somebody going in there and smashing things,” he said. “It was really more creepy than that.”
Most of the money needed to run the forest farming class comes from the class itself, primarily by selling the products, Hamilton said.
Aldrich said they are hopeful the class will become self-sufficient.
“The class typically runs off of the previous year’s profits in combination with various grants,” he said. “The hope for the future is that the class can function off of the previous year’s profits.”
Because of this financial uncertainty, Hamilton said it will be hard to replace some of the equipment.
“For example, they slashed the tires of a very expensive wagon that we use for transporting heavy materials, which means that the class will have to make the money to replace those damaged wheels,” he said.
Rather than furthering production or spending their time on other projects, students will have to repeat previous work, Hamilton said.
“Really the biggest lost, I would say, was the students’ time,” he said.
Anyone with information should contact the Office of Public Safety