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Mushrooms, Mushrooms, Mushrooms!

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On Saturday, January 28th, one of my more strange – yet important – dreams came true!  I taught a class called MUSHROOMS, MUSHROOMS, MUSHROOMS! at Peripeteia Weekend.  My opening slide quoted well-known Mycologist Paul Stamets. It read: “Fungi are the grand molecular disassemblers of nature.  They are the interface organisms between life and death.  They generate soil … The entire food web of nature is based on these fungal filaments.  The mycelial network that infuses all land masses in the world is a supportive membrane upon which life proliferates and further diversifies.”  This is true, of course, but fungi and the study of mycology have been largely ignored by scientists, the public, and the media.

It seems as though fungi and the Crum Woods are similar in that they both have so much to offer but have been largely ignored.  On Saturday, however, there were nearly forty people in the woods all gathered around the same, fallen red oak tree.  That’s quite a lot of attention for one lowly log!  This log, however, I know very well as it has been the source of numerous edible species of mushrooms and I just had to share it with the class.  Afterward, several students asked me questions related to the Crum Woods, including how they could get involved.  To my own surprise, I did not have a good answer.  How can Swarthmore students get involved in caring for our forest?

The Grounds and Horticultural Department and the Scott Arboretum have always cared for the Crum Woods, but the threats to ecosystem stability are daunting, and we are in need of more resources to be better stewards of our land.  Balancing the various uses of the Crum Woods also provides unique challenges. Over fifty species of invasive plants and an overabundant deer population have been degrading the health of the forest for decades. Sewer line repairs in 2011 and the replacement of the railroad Trestle from 2015 to 2016 have left us with over twenty acres to restore and manage. Additionally, stormwater surges have eroded land and polluted the Crum Creek and its tributaries.

We are fortunate that the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee has made great strides in the past fifteen years, including the creation of trail maps, the installation of signs at entrances to the forest, the new tradition of the annual fall student tree planting, and the implementation of a deer population management program which involves archery, culling, and long-term monitoring of ecosystem responses.  We are also fortunate that there are three students in the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship program who are working on important projects related to the Crum Woods Stewardship.  I also have two Grounds crew student workers who work with me in the Woods each week to remove weeds, build brush-bars, and care for the trees we have planted.

Student involvement will be a crucial component for the proper management of the Crum Woods going forward.  There are various ways that students can engage with the Woods, but other than the annual creek clean-up, scheduled for April 21, there is no established framework for students to work in the Woods.   Dozens of courses utilize the forest and I urge readers to consider how special it is to have a nearly 200-acre forest as part of this campus.  I also ask students to consider the Crum Woods when they are choosing research topics or volunteer projects.

I also realize that there are many students and other members of our community who may have never been in a forest before or who have traveled great distances to be here.  The Crum Woods offers us natural history and a sense of place.  It is a place for exercising and relaxing, and a place to learn and develop a stronger relationship with nature and your surroundings. We should get to know it better!

Here are some ways that students can learn about the Crum Woods or be more actively involved in its stewardship: Attending the creek clean-up on Friday, April 21. Attending Scott Arboretum tours of the Crum Woods, which leave from the Amphitheater at noon on March 12, April 12, and May 4. Volunteering to serve on the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee. Applying for the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship. Talking to your classmates and professors. Pursuing research on topics that can aid in stewardship of the forest. Attending Bird Club walks in the Crum. Attend the annual fall student tree planting in October. Being a good steward in your own way – respect the forest, walk on trails, pick up litter if need be, and take ownership of and pride in the Crum Woods.  Feel free to contact me, Mike Rolli, the Crum Woods Restoration Assistant, with any questions at mrolli1@swarthmore.edu.

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