Outdoor Endeavors by Elizabeth Anne Phares

The Practicality of Nature

Compiling a list of all of the uses for the Nature Preserve is a work in progress. It is something that, hopefully, can never be finished as people find new ways to utilize the natural areas on campus without damaging the environment. Already the Nature Preserve is used by countless people for a variety of purposes. This ranges from recreation and exercise to scientific studies and inspiration for fine arts projects. There are also a whole host of ways in which we could use the Preserve given the right planning.

One of the most common uses of the Preserve is recreation and relaxation. This would include walking, jogging, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, picnics or the simple act of soaking up the sun and taking in all there is to see. Not a day goes by that people are not enjoying the beautiful setting of the Preserve, even when it’s cold and the wind in howling. I personally have hiked to the field during storms to get a view of the snow swirling down from the sky, blanketing the area in pristine white. On several occasions I was not alone, I ran into other students bundled in parkas headed for the top despite the seemingly frigid weather.

During the fall people come to enjoy the brilliant colors of the trees, the beavers hurrying to store food for the winter, the migrating birds and the last bit of summer warmth. When winter arrives the trails become crisscrossed with ski and snowshoe tracks as people fight cabin fever. As spring arrives the Preserve is flooded with students, BU faculty and staff as well as people from the community to enjoy the weather and see new life come forth from the previously frozen ground. Despite the mud people renew their familiar ties with their favorite areas, exploring the changed landscape as if it is the first time they have been there. 

Not matter what time of year it is people use the Nature Preserve for exercise. Many of us detest treadmills which, in my opinion, are like hamster wheels. Some of this exercise is structured in the form of gym classes. Among others, the classes that use the Preserve include hiking, running, orienteering, cross country skiing, backpacking, outdoor living skills, winter camping and wilderness medicine. All of these gym classes take students into the Preserve during the course of the semester.

Other classes utilize the Preserve as well. Biology and ecology courses use it for research purposes. Every single student on this campus who takes Introductory Biology must do a project on insects and pollination, that is hundreds of people a semester. Wetlands Ecology students are forced to wade through the water, mapping the various features of the area. Animal Behavior students often use the preserve for their major class project. Professors and graduate students take advantage of our backyard wilderness. Stim Wilcox collects spiders and water striders for his studies. Professor Shepherd sends his Entomology students in to complete a collection of bugs, a major part of the lab requirement for that class. If anything, the BU Nature Preserve is far less than it could be for scientific research. There is great potential there for studies relating to habitat diversity and succession of farmlands and damaged areas.

The academic use of the Nature Preserve is in no way limited to the sciences. English students regularly write essays, stories and poems about it. Libby Tucker’s Folklore class is a prime example; students have turned in both ghost stories and student folklore about the Preserve. Donna Mendleson has a vast collection of essays from her ESL class, she uses the wild areas to inspire her students. As a result, many of them who come from cities establish their bond with nature for the first time. Many students relate to her how much these essays impact their lives, changing them profoundly.

The use of the Nature Preserve does not have to be limited to the University. The local area is filled with young minds, ready to be molded into adults with an appreciation for nature and a desire to save our planet from pollution. This would range from hikes guided by BU students to programs to educate teachers or the students themselves. Biannual seminars could be used to pass on knowledge about the Preserve to the area teachers who could then bring their classes to the Preserve on their own. Other Universities with large nature preserves offer camp like experiences to elementary school children. Activities include exploring the many organisms in the area to discussions about extinction, pollution and habitat loss. Again, this is an area in which our wild areas are being vastly under used.

The value of the Nature Preserve for education and exercise warrants more attention. I would strongly recommend a formal survey of students, faculty and staff as well as the local community. We have a wonderful resource not found at very many universities and we need to take advantage of it.

Last Updated: 10/27/16