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Emily van Assendelft ’23 and Jonah Ring ’23 Engineer Crum Woods Boardwalk for Senior Capstone

Before and after: A muddy area in Crum Woods was improved by the installation of a boardwalk

Before and after: The area in the Crum Woods below Strath Haven condominiums, which often flooded and became too muddy to access, became navigable thanks to the efforts of Emily van Assendelft ’23 and Jonah Ring ’23.

Crum Woods has a 72-foot-long upgrade, thanks to a team effort between Emily van Assendelft ’23 and Jonah Ring ’23, the Engineering Department, and the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee. For their engineering capstone senior design project, van Assendelft and Ring collaborated with a diverse group of stakeholders to design, obtain permits for, and coordinate volunteers to build a boardwalk over a trail segment. Facilities provided financial support for the project. 

“[The boardwalk] leaves behind a tangible benefit to the College, and also reflects a great collaboration across many groups at Swarthmore,” says Matt Zucker, associate professor and chair of the Engineering Department. 

For van Assendelft and Ring, former members of the cross country team, the idea to pursue a project enhancing Crum Woods was inspired by many hours spent running on its trails

The two runners had dedicated years to conservation work outside of the College by working for the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Colorado and Appalachian Conservation Corps in Virginia. 

“These AmeriCorps programs facilitated knowledge of trail work, conservation, and sustainability through hands-on manual labor,” says van Assendelft. “We wanted to utilize the skills gained from our wilderness construction experience in order to benefit the Swarthmore community and extend the life and usability of Swarthmore’s very own trail system.”

van Assendelft met with Sue MacQueen, Lars Rasmussen, and Jeff Jabco, all Arboretum staff, in the spring of 2022 to explore doing a project in the Crum Woods. Throughout the project, van Assendelft and Ring attended monthly meetings with the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee.

Rasmussen mentioned that the area below Strath Haven condominiums, which often flooded and became too muddy to access, might benefit from a boardwalk installation. Enticed, van Assendelft approached the Engineering Department for approval to proceed with the initiative with Ring. 

The duo met with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to determine what type of permit was necessary for the boardwalk installation. van Assendelft and Ring consulted Ross Bickhart, a professional engineer, who helped them understand the extensive permitting process and ultimately certified their final boardwalk design.

Construction began on May 8. Peers and teammates volunteered alongside trail crew volunteers and grounds staff from the Scott Arboretum, led by Lars. J. Johnson, the Engineering Department’s machine shop supervisor, who ordered materials, provided tools, and helped transport materials to the site. 

“It was immensely satisfying to see the practical knowledge gained from my experiences with AmeriCorps Trail work [combine with] problem-solving skills derived from Swat’s engineering curriculum,” says Ring. “It was a lovely way to end my time at Swat — giving back to Crum Woods, which has been central to my experience [on the cross country team] over the past four years.” 

“This project expanded our knowledge of design, permitting, and construction — all important skills as we enter careers in environmental engineering and conservation work after graduation,” adds van Assendelft. 

Faculty, staff, and students, celebrated the boardwalk’s opening with a small ceremony prior to Commencement. 

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