By Amanda Gill
Remember those tall, green, leafy things called trees that hang around the campus? Well they’ve always been kind of a big deal, literally, since there are a shocking 3,610 of them in total, but now they’re causing more of a ruckus than ever before.
Students, faculty members, grounds staff, and administrators, have slowly been working to integrate the trees more thoroughly into the social and academic spirit of the campus in order to supplement their existing contribution to its aesthetic appeal.
In 1994, the Bryn Mawr grounds department first created a tree tour of approximately 60 trees, but this was just the crude beginning of the growing connection between students and saplings.
Particularly over the past few years, Bryn Mawr has continued to work towards realizing a community more thoroughly involved with its surroundings—after all, within such close proximity to such majestic and organic beauty, it seems almost a crime not to be.
Throughout the years, Bryn Mawr has become quite the model of natural charm, collecting merit awards left and right for its outstanding professional grounds maintenance and pristine landscape appearance. In 2010 the college received the Green Star Award from the Professional Grounds Maintenance Society, and in 2011 it received the Award for Landscape Excellence offered by the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association.
Bryn Mawr has even managed to proceed with its goals in a very green way, recognized in 2010 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for the success of our student organized vegetable garden. And, although not officially recognized, over 2300 native species were recently planted on the hillside above the new Schwartz gymnasium.
But what really put the cherry on top of the quest for environmental understanding and involvement was Bryn Mawr’s recent official achievement of a Tree Campus USA. A major part of achieving that status means that the college must engage in a service-learning project that connects the students to the trees. Bingo – a revised, refurbished, revamped tree tour fit the job perfectly!
So the 60 trees previously included were trimmed down to just 42 of the most exceptional and most notorious, and these were then compiled into sharp, smart brochure guide for anyone—students, faculty, visitors from near and far—to use to explore the campus through its most prominent, and arguably most attractive, natural feature.
Most recently in this portion of the Tree Campus USA endeavors, the plaques were placed on all 42 of the chosen trees during a special plaque-placing ceremony led by Ground Manager Ed Harman and students Lydia Bello ’12 and Stephanie Kim ’12, both student representatives of the landscaping subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that explores landscaping goals and plans.
Bello discussed the importance and relevance of this tour today.
“The students can really start to take an interest in where they live. The tree tour is a fascinating way to learn about Bryn Mawr’s history,” she remarked. “We can learn about the changes of Bryn Mawr, obviously many since we recently celebrated 125 years, through the trees that have been here all along.”
Kim also noted, “Bryn Mawr’s college campus is so rare and unique with a great deal of gothic, historic architecture. Many buildings have been renovated, and not rebuilt in order to preserve the history, and the trees complement it further.”
The trees add an exceptional dimension to the campus, both socially and physically, that few tend to grasp, and so the Tree Campus USA status was also sought in order to foster more of an understanding of this essential connection.
“The trees are our second biggest asset here, aside from buildings and students,” Harman added. “The landscape and the campus are intertwined historically, and the trees are exceptionally long lived. The time that you spend here will be immensely shorter than the lives of trees here so they need to be well maintained and well respected. We must try to preserve the historical value of campus, and this tour can help us accomplish that.”
But even though the newly revised tree tour accomplishes much, where do we go from here?
In the future, Harman hopes to further revise the tour. “Right now aluminum labels serve as identifiers and bronze labels indicate memorial trees, and there are six different types of labels. We hope to eventually consolidate the number of labels on trees to just two so the tour is even easier to follow and even more people can get involved,” he explained.
He also expressed a desire to add QR codes in order to more thoroughly embrace the digital age and directly deliver the tour takers to the complete guide now only available on the Bryn Mawr grounds webpage (QR stands for Quick Response for those less tech-savvy – basically those strange black and white blotchy-checkered squares that get you online in a snap).
Currently inside the brochure there is a map displaying the tree-viewing route and the specific tree names are listed off to the side, but more detailed descriptions are only available online, and so QR codes would make those resources more readily available for visitors who seek a deeper understanding.
Beyond the Tree Campus USA achievement, an arboretum could be a possible progression. Harman remarked, “It’s a little more complicated and a little more involved than a lot of people are aware of, but we are basically aligning ourselves with the requirements of an arboretum status. The Tree Campus U.S.A achievement makes sense in a progression towards achieving an arboretum status but we still haven’t made a full commitment right now.”
So although the college might not see an arboretum in the near future, maybe that’s just a title anyway. With its achievements so far, which are certainly prolific, Bryn Mawr can look forward to improved community involvement and, thus, improved community understanding about the world, in some of its most stunning and distinctive forms, right at our fingertips.