Academic, Earth Day Programs Raise Profile of Crum Woods

The Crum Woods was the scene of academic, recreational, and community-building programs last week — a coordinated effort to boost engagement with the woods and connect them to the classroom and larger community.

Highlights included the Walk in the Crum program led by the Biology Department, as well as the College’s Ecosphere Earth Day programming of a night walk in the Crum and a clean up of Little Crum Creek Park.

The Walk in the Crum is an annual laboratory for the introductory biology course, for which 120 students encounter the woods in small groups. A professor, lab instructor, or teaching assistant guides each group and helps students to identify forest patterns and creek critters that they studied in class.

It's an observational exercise, says Rachel Merz, Walter Kemp Professor in the Natural Sciences, designed to promote the Crum as a natural resource.

“Bringing students through in this way gives them a chance to see what’s there and learn more about it,” she says. “We want it to be both more familiar and inviting than it might have otherwise been for them.

"More students are growing up in urban settings and have little experience with the natural world," Merz adds. "Too often, that leaves them fearful of it, when instead it can be a source of renewal and peacefulness."

On Friday, a group of more than 50 students, staff, faculty, and Scott Arboretum and community volunteers gathered for the annual Crum Creek Clean Up, led by the Grounds & Horticulture Department. Volunteers gathered trash, pulled debris from the creek, removed invasive plants, repaired trails, and enjoyed a pizza lunch in the Holly Meadow.

“It was very refreshing and inspiring,” says Brittni Teresi ’19, an Honors environmental studies and psychology major and Evans Scholar from Las Vegas, Nev. “One of my friends said it amazed them how much progress was made after just one day of many people pitching in. It speaks to the idea that we can all make a difference in the Crum, build community, and have fun at the same time!”

As a President’s Sustainability Research Fellow (PSRF) this past year, Teresi worked to foster a love for the Crum Woods through citizen science and engagement. Another PSRF, Gavriela Mallory '17, a biology and art major from Brookline, Mass., examined best practices for Crum Woods stewardship. [Read more on Mallory and the Crum's identity in The Phoenix.]

The Ecosphere team organized a series of programs for Earth Day, including Friday’s Night Walk in the Crum and Saturday's Little Crum Park Clean Up. The night walk, in particular, drew many first-timers.

“It really inspired people to want to go into the woods more," Teresi says.

On Earth Day, College community members joined borough residents at Little Crum Park. Children marveled at the wonders of the Crum, among them snails and caddisflies, says Teresi, as event organizers built community and excitement for nature.

The Crum Woods, encompassing 220 acres of mostly forested land adjacent to the developed portion of campus, has long been a living classroom at the College. It has been a key component of 35 courses in 12 academic departments, enabling the collection of plant samples for the fundamentals of ecology course taught by Associate Professor of Biology Jose-Luis Machado and the analysis of the song of the European starling in the animal behavior seminar taught by Assistant Professor of Biology Alex Baugh.

Still, a recent survey of students in the intro to biology course revealed that 23 percent had never ventured into the Crum, and that another 30 percent only visited once during first-year orientation.

"We want the entire community," Merz says, "to see the Crum for the vital resource that it is.”