Skip to content

Student Volunteers Transform Former Storage Site Into Budding Forest

Ethan Murray ’21 got drenched recently, but it was for a good cause. Murray, a physics major from Trumbull, CT, was one of more than 75 students who planted saplings on Vassar’s Ecological Preserve.

Murray said he decided to join the tree-planting party after reading an email alerting students about the project. Professor and Chair of Biology Margaret Ronsheim and Ecological Preserve Manager Keri Van Camp were seeking volunteers to plant trees on seven acres of tree-barren land.

A rainy day early in the week gave way to sunnier weather as Vassar students planted 500 saplings during a week-long project at the Ecological Preserve.

“I’d taken a couple of classes that used the Preserve for teaching, and I knew a few other people who were planning help out, so I decided to sign up,” Murray said. “It was drizzling when we got there, and before long, we were planting trees in a downpour.”

Over a seven-day period, students from Ronsheim’s Plant Diversity class, Associate Professor of Biology Lynn Christenson’s Ecology class and members of the varsity cross country team joined Murray and other volunteers, planting 500 saplings acquired through a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Ronsheim said she was grateful to everyone who showed up to restore the land. She said previous use of the site included a composting station by the City of Poughkeepsie starting in the early 1990s. It was subsequently used as a storage site during construction of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences in 2012 and 2013.

The volunteers planted a wide variety of trees on the site.

The volunteers planted poplars, oaks, pines, and other hardy species of trees that will thrive on the site. “The trees we planted have the resiliency to join the rest of the forest on the preserve,” Ronsheim said. “It will contribute to the carbon sequestration that is part of the College’s Climate Action Plan, and it will help improve the water quality on the Preserve, which is important because the water ends up in the Hudson River.”

Ronsheim noted that new hiking trails are being built near the site, enhancing recreational opportunities for everyone in the Vassar community. “This was a team effort that will serve as a public health and mental health resource during this time of COVID-19,” she said.

Van Camp agreed. “This is an important project that closes a hole in our forest at the Preserve,” she said. “It will connect two pieces of the forest corridor.”

The torrential rain notwithstanding, Murray said he and others were happy to take part in the project. “When it really started pouring, I kind of questioned my decision to be out there,” he said. “But looking around and seeing what we were accomplishing to help the ecosystem, it was definitely worthwhile.”