Collective UC-Community Effort Plants 480 Trees

Hunsburger Woods will be a greener place because students and campus volunteers have planted 480 trees to help reforest parts of the woods off Ninth Avenue in Collegeville.The 2013 Hunsberger Tree Planting project in late October shows “the College’s commitment to civic engagement, service-oriented learning, and the blending of the Liberal Arts experience with real-world and in-the-field experiences for students,” says Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Patrick Hurley.

Seventeen students in Hurley’s “Forests & People” class and more than 70 volunteers — including students from other Environmental Studies classes, athletics teams, fraternities and sororities, and clubs and organizations such as UCARE and Bonner; staff from the Myrin Library, Center for Academic Support, and the Dean’s Office; and faculty — to plant the trees and shrubs in a meadow area. They spent hundreds of combined work hours planting 31 different native species as part of the project, including characteristic members of typical southeastern Pennsylvania forests: white oak, red maple, and shagbark hickory, among others. Twenty more trees will be planted in a few short weeks in conjunction with a stream restoration project in the park, bringing the new total of trees added this year to 500.

“Everyone involved was willing to brave some cold morning temperatures, put in lots of hard work, and even risk getting poison ivy, all while maintaining bright spirits,” Hurley adds.

In the process, students moved beyond their classroom discussions and readings about restoring locally appropriate forest types to enhance so-called ecosystem services, and wrestled with such efforts first-hand. “They experienced in a more meaningful way the logistical and work challenges of expanding forests in southeastern Pennsylvania,” Hurley says. “In doing so, they learned about the complex set of interactions that characterize ecological management and forest enhancement. These include our community members’ love of trees and forests, the involvement of key government actors and non-profits in facilitating this type of work, and the engagement of regional industry—in this case, water providers—to invest in ecosystem management strategies that protect water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, and improve the recreational enjoyment of borough residents.”

Senior Zachary Scheib says the tree planting was important to him. “If there is one kind of organism that is more important to me than others it is a tree,” he explains. “They do so much for us, and it is only so late that we have actually begun to realize how important they are on so many levels. Life without trees is far less satisfactory and in some ways impossible. It’s super important for people to plant as many trees as they can in an educated and informed manner to help reforest the great tracts of woodlands that have been lost. A more informed development of forested areas is where I see a piece of our salvation in the future.”

Faculty and staff had an equally worthwhile experience. “We are really honored to be able to participate with the community knowing that the result will be living monuments that outlive us,” says Caroyn Weigel, library staff and college archivist, who planted with her husband, Bill.

Missy Bryant, Assistant Dean of Students, notes that the planting “positively impacts the environment and future generations of UC students and Collegeville residents. It was so rewarding to work with faculty, staff and students to give back to the Collegeville community in this way.”

The recent tree planting was the culmination of a $8,000-plus grant from TreeVitalize, co-written by Hurley and Richard Wallace, Professor of Environmental Studies. The grant supports ongoing stewardship efforts by the Department of Environmental Studies at Hunsberger Woods. Last spring, Dr. Wallace’s “Land Ethic” class installed two rain gardens. The programs are part of the regional reforestation effort known as  Plant One Million.

The volunteers worked with the Borough of Collegeville, Emma Melvin and Barley VanClief from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and Susan Harris from the Montgomery County Conservation District. They received equipment support from Lower Providence Township and the UC Organic Farm, and UC Green Fellow Megan Maccaroni in the Office of Sustainability, and critical support from Facilities Services, particularly Dave Bennett.