If you’ve been strolling around Eastern’s campus lately, you might have noticed that trees have been cut down in several places on campus, most notably in front of Sparrowk residence hall. You may also have noticed that the sign declaring Eastern a nature preserve next to the Sparrowk bridge is missing. Many people have expressed frustration and confusion at this development. Eastern is often lauded for its beautiful campus, but is that changing?
Grounds Manager Marcus Von Hertsenberg met with me in an interview to discuss the changes happening around campus. “Rest assured, all the changes that are happening are all positive,” he said, prefacing our interview as he handed me a labeled manilla envelope full of detailed print-outs to supplement the information provided below.
Bradford pears were recently added to the noxious invasive plant list; while they are a colorful flowering species that looks appealing, they’re often deeply damaging to native species and environments. On Feb. 9, 2022, the ban on sale and cultivation took effect. According to Von Hertsenberg, Eastern is “phasing in process with other native plants” and replanting with native species, all “going in line with regulation and code.”
When asked about the replanting process, Von Hertsenberg said, “As of this year already, we have four trees that have already been put in.” One was a donation provided by Susan Weber, an alumna from the class of 1968, which was planted by the water wheel. There have also been two sycamores and a cypress planted. The Grounds Department has also received approval for funding devoted to the replanting efforts; the tree company that the university works with, Shreiner Tree Care, has also donated redbuds, which are a native species. The replanting will take place throughout the spring, now that the cold has broken.
Regarding Eastern’s status as a nature preserve, Von Hertsenberg stated that “We’re still very much a nature preserve.” Unfortunately, the signs were vandalized and stolen, but that hasn’t stopped the conservation efforts that the Grounds Department has been working on. In 2002, the Growing Greener Grant was established and backed by John Monroe to confront the issues on campus related to ponds and invasive species. However, the preserve area was treated as a boundary line, and from 2002 to 2018, “weeds and invasives took over and led to extreme deforestation,” Von Hertsenberg said. Since October 2021, his department has been working on water control on the paths as well as dealing with watershed issues.
“There’s been a lot of extreme efforts from my staff and my department in, as we call it, reopening Eastern and a lot of good has come from that,” Von Hertsenberg said. They’ve been focusing on sustainable conservation efforts. “Every single thing has been safety-minded and these naturalization efforts have been outstanding. Everything that has gone into the ground in the last two years has been native-based.” For example, many of the wood chips around campus, such as the chips by the painted rock, are recycled from storm damage.
Von Hertsenberg also highlighted an exciting project that the Grounds Department is tossing around: Operation Walton Restoration. The Grounds Department wants to bring the area around Walton pond to its original aesthetic appeal before invasives took over. His team, which includes Peter Bogdon, Tim Vorwald and Sara Petrondi as well as support from Plant Ops members Jeff Gromis and Tony Patricco, have been working tirelessly to make our campus not only beautiful but also sustainable and ethical. Next time you stop and notice how lovely the place we live and learn is, consider sending a thank you note to the Grounds Department for their deep-rooted attention to both beauty and environmental justice.