The landscape downslope from Tobey, Littell, Lee and Golding Halls is of particular interest to the College and Community, as it is an environmentally sensitive area and subject to erosion from stormwater runoff.

When Golding was first built in 1963-64, this area was substantially different from what it is now:

The Sixties. If you remember them, you weren't there.

The forest cover downslope was composed of small and more widely-separated trees, and there was a substantial amount of grass cover at ground level. The First-Year-Experience buildings (Tobey, Littell, Wilber and Golding) also had flat roofs.

[Note also that the Heating Plant had a 145-foot-tall brick chimney, as at that time it burned coal for heat. Yuck. Toward the bottom of the photograph is "Old Main", the original College building which was built in 1889 and demolished in 1978.]

Going back another thirty years, you can see how thinly dispersed the small trees were on a grassy slope:

The Thirties. May result in severe Depression. Consult your doctor or pharmacist.


Another thirty years back and you can see the upslope areas where Golding is now clear and used for grazing animals where a couple of small family farms existed::

Volleyball was also getting invented in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Bet you didn't know that.


Today, the picture is considerably different.

  • The woodland cover is much thicker and closer to the buildings.
  • The residence halls now have pitched roofs.
  • There is a large population of whitetail deer living in the wooded area and continuously grazing the forest floor.
  • Climate Destabilizaton has increased the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events.

A considerably different picture. Color was invented in 1970. Bet you didn't know that, either.


So we were faced with a situation where storm runoff was running down the slopes behind Golding, eroding soils, undermining the walkway, damaging the site lighting and depositing dirt and rocks. Something had to be done.

With the help of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, we put together a project to capture this runoff and hold it in what are called "bioswales":

Two bioswales - a brand-new, unplanted one in the foreground, an established planted one across the street. We like the far one better.


The idea here is to hold the runoff for a while, allowing it to soak into the soil and be taken up by plants. Really excessive amounts are redirected to stormwater catchbasins and piping. Either way, it doesn't travel across the surface.

So what's with the fence?

Remember the whitetail deer from the third bullet point above? They are all over the place around here, especially in the wooded areas on the edge of campus and residential neighborhoods, which the area next to Golding most definitely is.

Did someone say "salad bar"?

Someone did. We want to plant the bioswales with about twenty varieties of native wetland plant species, and if you look at the forest floor outside the swale area you can see that the deer pretty much eat every single tiny little shoot that tries to struggle into existence. The last thing we want is to have our wonderful structure stripped right down to the bare dirt. So the fence is there to keep the deer out, but not you and me. So we aren't locking the gates, just begging everyone on bended knee to keep them closed after passing through. Hopefull the deer are too dumb to manipulate the catches.

We have a tidy sum of money in the budget to select plant species, make decisions about how to arrange them, to consider other opportunities like bird boxes, food-plants (grapes? hops?) and other items like rocks, logs and so on to make the space increasingly part of the natural environment.

There's lots of plant varieties we could consider for this space - native species well-suited to wetland environments:

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) Cut‐leaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) Joe‐Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum)
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum)
Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Blue Flag Iris, just showin' off.

And it's not all just about Biology. There's opportunity for art here as well, both in the enclosed space and on the fence.

The point is that this project is as much about the students who live near it and study its development as the physics of why we had to build it in the first place. This offers lots of different people the chance to work on the evolution of a new piece of campus - to experiment with different ways to manage the landscape.

An empty canvas... what could we do with it?

If you are interested in taking part in this project, contact us:

Phil Bidwell - Office of Facilities -

Rachel Kornhauser - Office of Campus Sustainability -

Images credit Wikimedia Commons