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President’s sustainability research fellowship expanded, refined

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Amos Frye ’18, a fellow of the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship program, worked first as a landscaper and farmhand in high school, then as a volunteer for the Student Conservation Association, working on trails in Hopewell Furnace, Pa., and Kenai Fjords, Alaska. Over the last two summers, he has worked for two different Conservation Corps, one based in Salida, Colo., and one based in Cedar City, Utah. He has spent most of his working time pulling weeds, digging holes for water retention (biotension) basins, removing invasive plant species, and managing trails — until his PSRF project allowed him to direct a sustainability effort in his own community at Swarthmore.

“I’ve worked in conservation a lot, but I’ve never been the person who manages the project; I’ve just been the grunt who does the work,” Frye said. “It’s interesting to get on the other side and see what goes into those issues of restoration and conservation [and] what work goes into the planning process.”

The PSRF program, which is a hybrid of a two-credit, yearlong course and an internship, assigns projects and staff and faculty mentors to a select group of students. There are 17 PSRF fellows this year, seven more than there were during the program’s pilot year in 2016 – 2017. Departments can request PSRF projects, but they are funded outside of the academic departments.

“All the things that would have been done, there’s just no one around to do them — that’s essentially all PSRF projects,” Frye said. “[Administrators, staff and faculty] saw the potential for improvement, but they don’t have the time or the resources. Since we’re paid outside of each department [and] we’re not paid much, that allows for that work.”

This year, the PSRF program has expanded and evolved to include the Alumni Sages, a group of alumni with careers in sustainability who provide resources and insider knowledge as well as new planning mechanisms, new work spaces, and changes to the yearlong timeline of the class. Projects this year focus on improving environmental friendliness all over and surrounding the campus, from Sharples to the Athletics Department to the office building at 101 S. Chester.

Frye currently works on the Crum Woods Stewardship and Engagement project, which Gabi Mallory ’17 and Brittany Weiderhold ’18 began during the last academic year. His project includes four distinct subprojects: preventing erosion by restoring native plants at Morganwood Slope, a retirement community near Mary Lyon residence hall; evaluating and managing peak flow and erosion at the Lang Swale, a ditch behind Lang Concert Hall that absorbs around 99 percent of stormwater from the academic quad; working on a comprehensive restoration plan for the Crum Woods; and planning engagement events with the office of sustainability’s community outreach coordinator.

The PSRF project directed by Natasha Markov-Riss ’20, which aims to incorporate environmentally-friendly practices at Office of Student Engagement events, has led to an interesting discovery.

“It seems like one big area where we need to get better with sustainability is the red Solo cup issue,” Markov-Riss said. “They’re #6 [plastic], so they’re not recyclable. At every party, we’re using two to three bags of them, upwards of 200, and those are all being thrown away.”

But when Markov-Riss began researching alternatives for red Solo cup usage, she discovered that students were reluctant to give them up.

“There’s more of a connection to and love of red Solo cups than we originally anticipated,” she said. “They are super entrenched in [the] culture of American drinking, they’re regulation for different drinking games, and people aren’t super willing to move away from them.”

Markov-Riss instead decided to search for recycling programs that would recycle the cups for free.

“So that way, instead of going upstream, we may try and tackle that problem downstream just because the goal is to create sustainable solutions that are in themselves sustainable, and we want people to be on board with them,” she said. “One of the goals of this project is not just to force sustainability solutions in students.”

Markov-Riss plans to create a strategic sustainability plan for the OSE that will include recommendations for the next one to two years. She also hopes to hold a launch event for students and to implement one or two of her recommendations before the year is over.

“Right now I’m doing a really thorough baseline analysis of where the campus is at right now in terms of sustainability,” Markov-Riss said. “I’m interviewing all the different people involved in all the different programs under the OSE, and that’s more people than you would expect: van coordinators, everyone who runs Paces, everyone who’s in charge of any event on campus — so that’s PubNite, [Delta Upsilon], Phi Psi, [Mary Lyon] breakfast, [and] Swat Team.”

In contrast, much of Frye’s work involves hydrology, the study of how water moves over land on campus. Peak flow rate is an important metric for this study because it gives an idea of how a 25-year or 50-year storm event (storms that have a 4 or 2 percent chance of occurring each year) would affect the campus. Biotension basins, which are large ditches filled with hardy plants, are one of the ways the college decreases peak flow rate by increasing surface area over which water can slowly percolate into the soil.

“There’s a lot of interesting stuff on campus that they’re doing with stormwater now,” Frye said. “It’s sort of the biggest modern issue when it comes to civil engineering for big buildings, because there’s been recently a lot of laws passed and you can’t have peak flow rates any higher at a construction project than they were before for a 50-year storm. Swarthmore does better than that because I think [it’s] going for a silver or gold star.”

The College aims to earn a gold star from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Bridget Scott is an office of sustainability intern and Teaching Assistant for the PSRF class. Her PSRF project last year involved helping to creating a STARS report, which contains 63 different credits of sustainability, for the college. Last year, the college received a STAR rating of silver, which lasts for three years.

“Silver rating is really, really exciting because it means we’re doing well, but we can definitely do better,” Scott said.

The student engagement component of Frye’s project involves the Crum Woods tree planting event. The event was traditionally a mandatory activity during orientation, but it has been since made optional and moved to the spring. Frye also feels that the goal of PSRF engagement activities is to balance attendance with healthy student interest.

“It’s kind of hard to get people excited if they’re forced to go,” Frye said. “The idea is you want to get people who are actually interested or at least adjacently interested first, because if you force someone out into the woods and they don’t want to be there, you generally don’t engender positive feelings.”

Holding engagement events such as the Crum Woods tree planting involves a lot of  planning time, as does every aspect of the PSRF projects. Last year, students began the class by studying why sustainability is necessary on college campuses and learning other environmental science concepts, but this year, co-instructors Aurora Winslade and Carr Everbach switched the order of the class in order to incorporate time for fellows to plan projects and anticipate setbacks before they occurred.

“[Last year] we kind of developed our projects in the fall and carried them out more in the spring, but this year the fellows started and they just went off running,” Scott said. “Last year we didn’t really give ourselves enough time to plan our projects out for the totality of the year, so this way, the fellows came in with a much more clear sense of what the purpose of their project was.”

This fall, the co-instructors of the course have taught methods of planning and executing projects instead of beginning with studying applied environmental science concepts.

“The first part of the class focuses a lot on project management, because they want everyone to get the projects off the ground,” Markov-Riss said.

According to Scott — whose job includes taking feedback and handling difficulties that PSRF fellows bring to her — one of the most common problems is communication with project mentors as well as faculty and staff in the department connected to the project. Though the project board is a very helpful tool for facilitating this communication, she says, the amount of people involved can complicate planning.

“One of my favorite parts of the PSRF projects is that for each student, they have a faculty mentor [or] a staff mentor, but then they also have their project board … That’s the approval board that moves your project forward for each stage of the game,” Scott said. “[But] in communicating with all those different people, information is really likely to get lost.”

According to Markov-Riss, the changes made to the program this year have improved the ability of students to communicate with their approval board and to carry out their projects effectively.

“We’re sending out weekly updates to our project board. The project feels very well mechanized and very well [systematized], so you definitely feel like you have a direction and you feel like there are support systems in place, so I’ve definitely learned a lot about project management. I think they refined the whole class.”

Many of the changes to the program were made in response to student feedback from last year, which Scott compiled during her internship this summer. One concern from students was the amount of work they put into the project. Eight paid hours per week and 10-12 academic hours are built into the program, but some students last year would go over the allotted amount of hours. According to Scott, changes are also being made by the class’s co-instructors as well as Eugene M. Lang Professor Denise Crossen to clarify the difference between work hours and academic hours.

“A difference this year is that — this is actually great, this is one of the most exciting parts — is that the Innovation Lab in the Lang Center [for Civic and Social Responsibility], the Social Innovation Lab, has become a space for PSRF,” Scott said. “Last year we would do our work hours whenever we wanted to, but this year it models more of a job system, which is nice.”

For all of these projects, fellows will create a handbook or plan containing the best practices in their project area at Swarthmore in the future.

“Institutional memory [is] a huge part of the program,” Scott said.

The program’s dual nature is meant to both give students experience and to provide a way for sustainability improvements to occur all over campus without relying only on departmental resources.

“That’s one of the main purposes of the PSRF program: to give students the power and the resources to carry out these projects and to get that real life experience [with] sustainability in their own communities,” Scott said. “But it’s also really to create these structures at Swarthmore that will last and really push sustainable change.”

PSRF fellows will present their findings — including baseline analyses, effectiveness of changes already implemented, and plans for the future — to the Swarthmore community in a public meeting in April.

Cherishing our Crum Woods

in Columns/Opinions by

Following my morning routine abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam, I am riding the bus from my host family’s house to my classes at Hanoi Medical University. I am mesmerized by the thousands of motorbikes on the road. At least half of the riders are wearing facemasks to protect themselves from pollution. As I exit the bus, I can’t help but notice how difficult it is to breathe as my lungs feel caked in dust and particulate matter.

While I am smiling as I am transfixed by the motorbikes honking at me to move despite walking on the sidewalk, the traffic and horns are a sharp contrast to the peaceful environment I have come to appreciate in the Crum Woods and on Swarthmore’s campus. At Swarthmore, the smell of Japanese honeysuckle and fresh rain accompany me to class each morning, but in Hanoi, the odors of smoke from street vendors, gasoline from motorbikes, and trash from garbage left on the side of the road overwhelm my senses. Back at Swarthmore, when in need of clearing my head, I can stroll through the Crum and get lost in listening to the rushing water of the creek and the chirping of the birds. Here in Hanoi, I am always aware of the motorbike sneaking up behind me and the street vendors yelling, asking me in Vietnamese to purchase something from their stand. I cannot lose myself completely in my thoughts, or else I will not be able to keep up with the quick pace of this city that is unlike any I have ever experienced.

The outdoor space on Swarthmore’s campus, both inside and outside of the Crum Woods, is a precious resource that has become especially dear to my heart these last two years, and even more so now that I must try and seek solace in an area with little to no actual green space. The Crum Woods provides space for students and community members to meditate, reflect, and get lost in their own thoughts. It provides space for students to become the responsible, ethical, and balanced citizens that Swarthmore’s mission demands its students become. In a study conducted last year through the President’s Sustainability Research fellowship, the three most common words students used to describe the Crum were “beautiful,” “diverse,” and “peaceful.” Students discussed enjoying the Crum Woods because they use it for exercise and retreat from the college’s grueling academic atmosphere. Overall, they offered it relieves some of Swarthmore’s pressure that can sometimes become overwhelming. The Visioning Process Final Report the college published last year also found that better use of outdoor space was one of the top desires of students on campus.

Still, students are not taking advantage of the natural spaces that exist on campus because they are “too busy.” However, what if making time to enjoy the natural resources that we have on campus became a priority? After all, studies show that time spent outdoors can actually make students more productive. According to the Huffington Post, two researchers from Stanford University found that walking outdoors boosts creativity, and researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found outdoor activity is likely to improve concentration. Lee and Ingold, in their article “Fieldwork on Foot,” describe the value of the outdoors best when they state, “the rhythms of movement are very different and people draw attention to the specific qualities of the outdoors,” compared to the almost static movements of the indoors.

I challenge you, Swatties, to make embracing the Crum Woods and the arboretum, in which you are all lucky enough to live and immerse yourselves, a goal this semester. Make time to take a walk in the woods, to listen to the sounds around you, and to notice how the natural environment actually improves your wellbeing, and perhaps even motivates you to finish your studies. While you’re at it, use events like the Scott Arboretum Tree Planting and Crum Woods Tours to motivate yourself to enjoy and conserve our woods. I challenge you to let the Crum Woods change you the way that the woods have changed me.

It is because of the Crum Woods that I have come to understand the serenity that exists in the world although our fast-paced and routine-oriented lives attempt to tell us otherwise. I’ll never forget the comfort of the woods last semester when I was practically in tears after failing a paper. I was completely overwhelmed when I realized that I had to quickly recover from that paper because I had a biology exam and other readings to complete. I found myself storming into the woods to walk out my frustration. After a few minutes in the woods, my heart began to slow and my eyes began to dry. Hearing a Carolina wren in the distance and watching a squirrel happily scurry up a tree, a small smile spread across my lips. Though academics are important, there is so much more to the world than one paper. The woods are a constant reminder that there is so much more to explore and so much more life beyond stress. It is because of this peace from the Crum Woods that I have been able to reaffirm my own values and discover where I belong in society.  

Of course, as I am away from the Crum Woods this semester, I still wouldn’t trade exploring for Hanoi for anything. There are aspects of Hanoi that I love and that I could never find at Swarthmore. I can’t even begin to describe how astonished I am by the simplicity of life many people follow, eating pho for lunch on a little blue stool resembling that of a four-legged children’s seat from my childhood. I love the vendors who opt for pedalling around a bike to transport their fruit and goods in baskets, content with wearing a rice hat to cover themselves from the beaming sun. At Swarthmore, we complain about having to sit in our dorm rooms without air conditioning, never mind pedalling a bike in the 100-degree hot, humid weather, but that argument is for another article.

Even so, there’s something to be said about valuing a luxury that many of us students don’t fully realize we have on campus. My experience in Hanoi has showed me how lucky we all are to not have to walk around campus with facemasks or smell garbage and toxins every time we leave the indoors. This privilege must motivate us to cherish and protect our woods even more, and we should make a conscious effort to appreciate and care for our natural environment the way it cares for us every day.

Saying Goodbye

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The summer I was eleven I got a hand-me-down dress from my cousin. The dress was perfect. It was pale green with little orange flowers and it fit exactly right. It wasn’t frilly. It was simple and wonderful. Wearing it made me feel quietly special, like Mary Lennox and Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls all rolled into one. I wore my green dress often that summer and into the fall, while the leaves were still on the trees and most days were warm. But the next June it didn’t fit right anymore. It pinched my shoulders and didn’t even reach the top of my knees. I was devastated. I wasn’t ready to give up that quiet specialness.

When I run through the Crum there’s a particular spot that makes me feel like I’m wearing that dress again. Past the water tower there is a trail where spicebush and witch-hazel flank either side of the path and bend towards each other, creating an archway. When leaves are just starting to appear on the trees the entire trail turns a pale yellow-green. There is never anyone there at 5:00 in the afternoon and it’s as if it exists for me alone. Shadows dance on the ground ahead of me as I run through my own light-filled tunnel—quietly special.

More often than not, goodbyes have been something that have happened to me and not something I have chosen for myself. In some ways graduation is no exception. I have been working towards graduation for four years now, and also its imminent approach is beyond my control.

There are undoubtedly aspects of Swarthmore I will not miss. I will not miss the stress of living in a community that uses overwork as its predominant coping mechanism. I will not miss the mentality that academia is the be-all-end-all of knowing. I will not miss the desperation of  trying to simultaneously understand a scientific paper and comfort a panicked friend at 2 am.

And there are many things at Swarthmore that I don’t feel quite ready to leave behind — my professors, my friends, the Crum. The lesson in that dress though, I think, is that saying goodbye is nuanced. I am saying goodbye to the Swarthmore community and to the Crum Woods. But I’m not saying goodbye to how these things have made me feel. I am not saying goodbye to stress, or desperation, or awe, or gratitude.

The summer I was twelve, when I finally did concede defeat and put my green dress in the pile of clothes that no longer fit, I had no idea that seven years down the road a trail in a small Pennsylvanian woods would make me feel just as quietly special. I’m trying to hold onto that now as we take on our last week of classes as undergraduates, tumbling closer to the inevitable end that is graduation. I am going to feel stress and desperation and gratitude and awe again, in new communities and new relationships and in many situations I would never expect to feel them. For me, there is comfort in knowing that I found quiet specialness both in a well-worn dress and years later on an early-spring woods trail. It means this is probably not the last time I will find it.  

Gavi Mallory and the Crum’s Identity

in Campus Journal/Let's Give a Damn by

 Gavriela Mallory ’17, known as Gavi, is a long distance runner, a member of the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee, and a Bio and Studio Art double major. She’s one of the few Swatties that can go into the Crum and tell you which species are invasive, tell you what kind of trees are around you and draw what each of the trees’ leaves will look like once spring comes. She’s an avid protector of the area, working hard with the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee and facilities to protect and preserve the Crum.

She’s also chainsaw certified.

As someone who, in freshman year, imagined myself in the Crum more than I actually went, I find it both surprising and sad that the general student body’s engagement with the Crum is so minimal, and that understanding of its history and circumstances is so limited. Myself included.

        “It’s incredibly disappointing every time I hear about someone who’s never even been to the Crum,” Gavi said, “I mean I know seniors who go, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s take a walk in the Crum, I’ve never been’ and … it’s been such a huge part of my experience at Swarthmore it’s just so sad to me.”  

The Crum Woods is around 220 acres of mostly forested land straddling the Crum Creek. There are dozens of classes over a myriad of departments that involve the Crum, and there are often other community events such as cleanups and tree planting. Gavi first started consistently exploring the Crum as a cross-country runner. She has also interacted with the Crum as a biology student and an art student, finding the Crum a source of inspiration for her art work. For Gavi, the Crum serves as a place of rejuvenation and recuperation.

“It was so nice to have thse three hours set aside where I would know that I would be away from everything and be in the woods,” Gavi said ( about an art class). “Tt is an opportunity for me to be present with myself.”

Part of the magic of the Crum for Gavi is how it serves as such a stark juxtaposition to the suburbia that is Swarthmore. She is critical of what neighborhoods such as the Swarthmore Ville represent, for she believes the convenience present in these neighborhoods can easily promote ignorance, especially when it comes to resource use.

“I find that I can just breathe better in the Crum,” Gavi said, “it just makes more sense to me.”

She further explains that the Crum being located next to this neighborhood poses a sort of identity crisis for it.

“It’s hard to know what a forest in the middle of suburbia should look like” Gavi said.

        The Crum has been impacted by many different projects throughout the years, most recently the sewer line restoration and the SEPTA trestle. Gavi explains that the Crum is now past a lot of active intervention and is going through a period of restoration. As I followed her sure-footed trod towards Crumhenge, an open field with a couple of large stones arranged in a circle, she pointed out a tree stump.

“I chopped that,” Gavi said.

She explained to me that she chopped the Norway Maple down because it was an invasive species, which are species that take up the resources in a new area and do not have natural competitors in the area, and thus can often times easily overwhelm the surroundings.

“When we talk about restoration and preservation in the Crum, there are some discussions about restoring it to pre-Colombian era, what it would look like if we weren’t here,” said Gavi, “but that’s absurd and probably counterproductive.”

It’s a strange balance. Any human conservation effort is always riddled with tensions that often don’t have right answers. We walked up the gradual slope towards Crumhenge, and in front of us appeared a hill with an eerie, almost neon green grass under the bridge.

        “That is just so visually invasive for me,” Gavi said. “This all stayed green, so bizarrely green, for way too long.”

        Furthermore, the hill and surrounding areas were scattered with thin plastic tubes to protect new saplings. The plastic is to prevent the deer from trampling or harming the trees, but its visual effect is jarring.

        “Doesn’t it look like a graveyard?” said Gavi.

        A graveyard full of baby trees.

Yet despite the visual strangeness and obvious human intervention, Gavi explains that these are all important strategies to help restore the Crum. The grass is so green because the seeds that were used were covered in fertilizer, and the trees need to be protected from the deer. Gavi let me know that from her research, the best argument and aim for an area such as the Crum is for the woods to be resilient.

“Resilience is the idea that it can bounce back and thrive even if there are some disruptions on the system,” Gavi said, “It won’t ever be able to survive without some human intervention because it’s in the middle of suburbia, and there is constant human impact. But the woods can be far more self-sufficient than it currently is.”

Self-sufficiency would mean that the dominant species in the woods are native species, such as beech-trees, tulips, and several types of oak and maple, and that they are effectively reproducing to fill in their own gap.

“You can see, for example, a large old beech tree, and what it would do is send shoots up the same root system to make sure that when the old tree eventually dies there would be someone to take its place,” Gavi said.

The ideal forest would have trees that cover all age ranges.

“You want to be able to see saplings, awkward teenage trees that are kind of skinny and tall, and then you’ll see slightly larger trees  a little smaller than a Frisbee and then you’ll get bigger older trees that are close to a hundred years old.”

As we walked close to the creek behind the Lang Concert hall, Gavi told me that there is an age group missing

“It’s strange, and we don’t know why this is,” said Gavi, “over-abundant deer probably had some role, but there just aren’t a lot of middle-aged trees, and that’s worrying.”

Despite the many worries concerns, the Crum Woods remains one of the best preserved woods in Delaware County, especially for a free space. Gavi said that many people from the Ville take walks there, and  kids can often be seen biking or playing in the space. Many cross country runners also run through, but other than runners there don’t seem to be many Swarthmore college students just hanging out.

        “I find it difficult to get people [from the college] to come out to the Crum,” said Gavi, “because as with any space, there needs to be a community, a norm, that can help bring people out here.”

        She looks up at a large tree and traces etchings of someone’s initials.

        “See this isn’t good for the trees at all, but you can see love notes dated from the 50’s, how cool is that?,” Gavi said.

        Gavi showed me the different markings and how the etchings are stretched out as more time has passed. She believes that, in the Crum, one can feel connected with something greater than themselves; seeing the trees that have survived so long gives her a sense of larger life. Gavi recognizes that people find recuperation in different ways, but she finds the indifference to space and land astonishing.

        “People don’t ask the question: ‘what is this land that I am on,’ anymore,” said Gavi.

        There is a culture at Swarthmore College that perpetuates the stream-lined I-have-to-use-G-Cal-and-run-from-meeting-to-meeting mindset that makes a walk in the Crum seems almost ridiculous unless it’s on your calendar. But on the other hand, if we know what the Crum should look like, the question that still remains is who the Crum can benefit.

        “As a society I think we have stopped actively trying to understand our place,” said Gavi, “we stop caring about where our resources come from, where they are going to go after we dispose of them, that inherent understanding and value of place and understanding of context and the lack of that is sort of an identity crisis.”

         In the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee there is a lot of discussion about student’s safety in the Crum. One of the fears is that those who did not grow up surrounded by nature might be unsure or scared going into the woods.

        “It’s straight up just land, and although it is obvious to me to spend time there, it isn’t for a lot of people,” Gavi said.

        A good rule of thumb that Gavi shared with me for those worried about entering is, uphill: campus, downhill: water. One of the larger questions for Gavi and for the identity of the Crum is accessibility.

        “This is definitely the best natural area that is accessible to people in Chester, but there really is no relationship between the Crum and the community in Chester and you have to question who has the time and resources to set aside time to be outside and have the capacity to learn about the woods and how to be safe in it,” Gavi said.

Are preserved and accessible lands such as the Crum really just for the rich and liberal elite families who can afford to take time off work to stroll with their kids? A nice idea in the backdrop of a nice neighborhood? It is strange to realize that free and easy access to land such as the Crum is a privilege, for it seems that no one really values land such as the Crum anymore. I admit the idea of the Crum in the backdrop of my college experience is appealing to me, but is that all? Can we re-imagine this space, or are we stuck in this strange liminal space of continual restoration efforts with no idea what the Crum’s identity should be? But the next question is who cares if we don’t know what it should or shouldn’t look like? We should all take advantage of this beautiful land keeping in mind that natural spaces like this have been exploited for far too long, far too vigorously. It should be cherished in its own right, and I hope the Crum can begin to have more meaning to more students at Swarthmore.

Go for a walk.

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.

A secret garden in the Crum, along with a rich history

in Campus Journal by
Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda

Sweating, mosquito-bitten, and exhausted by my first few weeks at Swarthmore, I had just given up on a run in the Crum when I noticed something strange on the bank of the creek: a crumbling stone staircase emerging from beneath the brush. The stairs’ end was obscured in summer leaves — I had to follow it. With a burst of adrenaline, I leaned into the steep hill and headed upward. The sense of mystery thickened with the dusk, and I climbed faster and faster. Breathless, I finally arrived at the top of the stairs.

Whether you’re a runner or just a wanderer, you’ve probably come across the arcing walls and scalloped edges of the so-called Crum Ruins. Even if you’ve only seen it in pictures, the place has an undeniable allure, however mutilated by cigarette butts and graffiti.  “Sick Boy,” slurs and several pentagrams are sprayed onto the stonework, and yet, when I first discovered it, its mystery was so strong that I felt like I was its first visitor in centuries.

But just 40 years ago, the Ruins were part of someone’s backyard.

Ward Hinkson was a college man, born in 1895 in nearby Ridley Park to a family with deep roots in the area. In 1764, his family settled at what is now called Hinkson’s Corners in Nether Providence. Generations later, Ward studied at the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to pursue a law degree at Harvard. He served in the army and advanced to captain before returning to his home to join the Delaware County Bar. After passing the bar, Hinkson bought a large house and its bare gardens, renaming it Oak Knoll.

The house was set on a long driveway behind a stone pillared gate. Ornately carved blocks of grey stone parted to three floors of tall windows and a high, peaked roof. Photos show a dark wood staircase rising from the red carpet in the entry hall. With your hand trailing on a carved banister, you might walk up the stairs to the overhanging indoor balcony, where floor to ceiling windows draped in chiffon cast light onto a crystal chandelier.

Pulling aside the curtains, you could see the whole property unfolding below. Azalea, magnolia, boxwood — with the help of his gardener, Ward Hinkson had transformed the property. The gardens bloomed. The fountains glowed with underwater light. Symmetrical hedges swirled in classical shapes like pastries, opening to a birdbath at the center of the maze. Two pines loomed over the yard, their shadows stretching over the hedges to graze the edge of the bright swimming pool, beyond which a long green lawn sloped down the bank of the Crum Creek.

Just below the lawn, the Italian Water Garden was nestled into the bank of the creek. This is the spot we know today as the Ruins. The lacy foundation in the center of the garden was then a low fountain, with a tall, graceful statue on a pedestal in the center. Rendered in dark metal, a girl stood on tiptoe, pouring water over herself into the scalloped base. Today, the summer foliage almost completely obscures the foundation. Pulling aside tangled vines, it’s difficult to imagine the original form of the fountain.

In a domed space in the now charcoal-blackened statuary, another figure stood in the shade, pouring water into the small pool below. The raucous ivy that has now taken over half the garden then climbed only just to the top of the wall. Lighting ran along the sides of the lush green lawn and through the fountain, casting a gentle evening glow. In the spring, the magnolia that still hangs over the garden today would have dropped its petals into the pool.

Rhododendrons, daffodils, tulips and roses. Despite a flourishing law career, Ward’s real passion was for flowers, especially orchids. After marrying his wife Edith, a young pianist from Boston’s North Shore, the two began construction on their first greenhouse, which connected to the corner of the mansion on the border of the formal gardens. They began cultivating orchids, eventually expanding to five greenhouses producing flowers for commercial sale.

As the couple grew older, the orchids began to take over the corners of their lives. They focused on a special variety, with miniature blossoms that grew close to the stem. Edith would select these tiny orchids from the greenhouses and float them in fingerbowls at their frequent summer dinner parties. On her tour of the Americas, Princess Cristina of Sweden visited the Hinkson home, likely dipping her fingers in the fragrant bowls as she walked through the luxurious space.

Shortly after Edith’s children went off to college at Dickinson and the University of Pennsylvania, she fell ill. She died in the fall of 1957, holding her son’s hand in her armchair.

Grieving the loss of his wife, Ward continued practicing law and redoubled his commitment to the flowers. Eventually, people from all over the state bought his orchids. They were advertised as gifts for Mother’s Day and as decor for special occasions. The Delaware County Daily Times predicted that “thousands of June brides will walk down the aisle carrying bouquets of his white Phaiaen orchids.” The flowers he grew were in the hands and homes of families throughout the county.

That was in 1965. Just a few years later, the family was forced to leave the property. By the 1980s, the home and the greenhouses were gone, replaced with the construction of a four-lane highway, today known as the Blue Route. Ward Hinkson was still living in the home when the government informed him that the home would be razed.

Hinkson fought bitterly to save the estate, employing all his professional and community influence to reroute the controversial highway away from his home. But in the end, the property was destroyed. Ward stood by with his young granddaughter, Jane, as wrecking crews tore down the home and the gardens.

“It was heartbreaking,” she said.

Ward died a few years later in a home a few blocks away.

Today, wandering up the warped staircase in the woods, you might catch the scent of the cherries and magnolias that shade the garden. And you might notice the dark blooms of chocolate vine climbing wild up the walls. But you will not find any orchids. You will not hear the sound of water trickling. Most likely, you will hear only the buzz of the highway rushing a hundred feet away.

The Crum Ruins are best accessed by following the Leiper-Smedley trail, which begins just beyond Mary Lyon. Follow the paved trail until you see a row of cinder blocks on the wooded side of the trail.

Crum Creek Meander prompts creative engagement

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by
Photo by Sadie Rittman.

To the editor:

In the recent editorial titled “The Problem with Crum Creek Meander,” Phoenix editors implied that Stacy Levy’s sculpture is deficient because it has inspired pranks and some students dismissed it as a “carwash.” Rather than wish there to be no difference of opinion, I see here an opportunity to learn more.

In situations like this, it is all too easy to slip into a mode of oppositional thinking — where one is either for or against something. So far, I have heard no carefully reasoned or substantiated arguments that find fault with the work. To the contrary, what I have observed is people of all ages interacting with the sculpture in creative ways. Many people have commented on how much they enjoy the work’s changing appearance over time. They are surprised to see it glowing pink at dusk, looking like a waterfall, or glimmering at night like fireflies. One student choreographed a dance performance at Meander, while others have used it for a scene in a movie. The Swarthmore Friends Nursery School brings groups of toddlers to the sculpture to play there and today 50 students from Elkins Park visited the work.

The core group of volunteers from the surrounding area who helped erect the sculpture cite that their experience helped them become more connected to art, nature, the College and each other; one of them volunteered to be caretaker of the piece, one made a flip book about its evolution, and all felt inspired to work many hours in freezing temperatures, encouraged by positive reactions from passersby. Most people involved with Meander, including Stacy Levy, thought the engineer’s April Fool’s prank was an inventive and amusing homage, not a caricature.

The history of art provides numerous examples of masterworks that were derided at first and later revered. Understanding the need for measured reflection, most of us at Swarthmore try to test our reactions more fully over time. We have the opportunity to compare the varied contexts, criteria, and reasoning we bring to art such as Crum Creek Meander — or any unfamiliar experience.

To find out more: The Scott Arboretum has placed a sign near the top of the sculpture and a brochure box on Magill Walk. Since March 12, the College has provided a webpage with information about Stacy Levy and her two Cooper Foundation-funded projects at Swarthmore. To watch a video of her March 5 lecture, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbkDFcL16zA. After May 15, you can learn more by watching a short video about Levy’s Swarthmore residency. It will be searchable under Crum Creek Meander on YouTube. I would be happy to meet with individuals who wish to discuss this further. You can reach me at apackar1@swarthmore.edu.

—Andrea Packard

The author is the director of the List Gallery.

The Crum, brought indoors

in Arts by



Stacy Levy is an artist entranced with nature and its relationship to the man-made industrial world.  Her pieces of temporary art are intended to be collaborative projects, interactive with nature and the community they exist in. While some pieces of art are made in a studio and shipped to a location, Levy intends for her pieces to create space. Two of Levy’s pieces are currently on display on Swarthmore’s campus — “Crum Creek Meander” and “Waterways.” Both pieces are intended to represent the Crum Creek Waterway and to remind us of the natural element in our own backyard.

On March 5, Levy gave a short talk about her past work and the concept and application of her two current displays on campus. This event also marked the official opening of her exhibit “Waterways” in the List Gallery.

Levy is an eco-artist; she believes that art can not only represent nature but can be a part of it as well. Levy distinguishes herself from a scientist who records natural processes and plots points on a graph. However, in many ways Levy is related to the scientific study of nature through her art. A large portion of her work focuses on monitoring changes in the environment, such as rising water level. She hopes that her art can help provide an indicator for these natural phenomena and make them visible to the man-made world.

Levy and her team are putting the final touches on her piece “Crum Creek Meander,” a 300-foot-long sculpture that winds through the field behind Sharples. The sculpture  is made out of metal pipes and pieces of black and clear vinyl. “I really like the idea of industrial materials being affected by nature,” she said. “Crum Creek Meander” exemplifies this ideal as the hanging pieces of vinyl are free to move in the wind and are exposed to the elements. Soon, the piece will be lit with blue ambient lighting.

Levy explained, “I use a lot of materials that aren’t typical sculpture materials. These are surveyor’s materials to indicate a change in the environment. I love the idea of the industrial meeting the natural… I wanted the piece to be translucent and to have the sense of a curtain but I wanted it to be reflective as well.” Thus, the black pieces are reflective and the clear are more see-through. The piece creates a permeable curtain for people to see and walk through.

Her piece “Waterways,” currently on display in the List Gallery, is a representation of the Crum Creek and its tributaries made of tiny glass jars. This is a large piece that fills up the entirety of the gallery. The art is not only a representation, but also a piece of the Crum, as it is made from various clear vessels such as glasses and bottles filled with water from different tributaries of the Crum. Visitors are invited to remove their shoes and enter this space, wandering along this replica of the Crum Waterway.

“I think it’s important to do work which involves the whole community and something that everyone can be affected by.” Levy said she chose the spot for “Crum Creek Meander” because it was a visible space where students would be walking from dorms or class to dinner. She hopes that the placement will encourage students to interact with the artwork as she intended it.

Both pieces are meant to convey the flow of the river and the subtlety of the eddies and curves of the creek. “Crum Creek Meander” takes solid objects in hopes of representing the fluidity of the creek while “Waterways” takes actual elements from the creek to recreate. Levy said “I often describe my art as a raspberry: small, repeated parts to make a whole.” Both pieces represent this ideal to create one beautiful and cohesive art work.

Both pieces were carefully planned and tested. As a self-proclaimed eco-artist, the use of vinyl could be controversial, however, Levy said she is dedicated to a conscious recycling of her pieces. When working with temporary art and materials like these, “it is important to think about adoption and where the materials will go once the piece is removed,” she explained. Levy hopes that once the art is taken down, the pieces will  be repurposed in the community.

These two projects were made possible by funding from the William J. Cooper Foundation. “Crum Creek Meander” will be present on campus for two years, during which students and passers-by will be able to experience the sculpture through varying weather and changing seasons. “Waterways” will be kept in the gallery for a month and is open to the public.

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