Areas of the Nature Preserve
The area that is now occupied by Harpur Pond was observed to be a marsh and poorly drained pasture in the 1930s and earlier. The aerial photos show this land to have a stream running west to east draining the land into Fuller Hollow Creek. Judging by the amount of vegetation present in the '36 aerial photo, the land appears as recently abandoned and allowed to grow. A little ways north of the Marsh trail, which runs the length of the pond to the north, there are plow lines still visible, either from an old cultivated field or an attempt to cultivate this soggy land. By 1955 this land was on its way to becoming fully vegetated. Then in 1962, Sun Oil cut across through this land southeast to northwest with a pipeline that headed toward the Hinman dorm community area. The pipeline backed up water to the west forming Harpur Pond. Soon after its construction, there was a gas leak and the potential for a disastrous situation led the company to remove the line and place it at its current location along the east side of campus beginning near Stair Park and heading north through Newing woods, behind the Newing dorm community.
The backed up water continued to accumulate, especially in the 1980s when beavers moved in and built a dam across the pond. The dam increased the level of the water and the reach of the pond in the direction of the Hinman community. The aerial photos show that in 1965 what was to become Harpur Pond was beginning to grow; by 1977 the pond had increased by about another half in size. There are three ponds present in the 1990 photos, since the pictures were taken after the beavers had moved in around 1984 and placed another dam on the west end of the pond. This backed water up into the area that is now wetlands near the west entrance to the preserve. The vegetation, which was growing there at the time, is now represented by dead snags of Red maples that were killed when the area was flooded. The dam was removed and the area drained leaving it a wetland when, in 1986, the beavers were exterminated by the university.
There was a bit of controversy on campus dealing with the beavers and their activity in the preserve. In July of 1986 the university had the beavers exterminated and the pond destroyed for fear of property damage due to excess water flow if one of the dams were to fail. Estimates of total excess water from behind the dams and flow capacity of culverts were made and the university determined that it was not safe for the beavers to be present. A letter from Associate Professor of Anthropology, Vineas Steponaitis to Ralph Miller, Acting Chair, of the Committee on University Environment, reexamined the data and estimates the university used in making its decision to remove the beavers and he came up with quite different results. Associate Professor Steponaitis found that much of the data used by the university was either incorrect or much too high favoring the decisions made. While the beavers do cut down many trees in search of food and building materials, Steponaitis explained that the beavers "created a far more attractive habitat for many wetland species" and increased "the number and diversity of water birds" present.
Beavers moved back in the next year and have been working on their damns ever since.
The farthest west wetland area was one of the main causes for the existence of the Nature Preserve. During the late 1960s the university wanted to fill in this wetland area and build playing fields in its place. They also hoped to construct a road that would connect west and east campus south of the main developed area. Bulldozers moved in, began to fill in the wetland and scraped the ground clean of any and all vegetation. Due to the combined efforts of campus-wide student and faculty protests, the construction projects were halted. The decision to build the playing fields was abandoned but not without an effect on the wetland. Today the "swamp area" (so called by the university) is being taken over by Phragmites and Purple Loosetrife, both invasive species that choke out other native species and reduce the biodiversity of a system.
Pond Trail Land
The Pond trail stretches all the way from CIW, to Lehigh Avenue south across the Connector Road. The land surrounding the Pond trail, on the south side of the Connector Road, has a similar origin to that of the Marsh trial area. In the 1930s, this land was an open field that was probably used for pasture and farming. The soil was probably saturated and not of great quality, that being coupled with runoff from the land added to the natural development of the stream running west to east. This stream flows through a fairly deep ravine at some points, and it is hard to believe that this ravine formed naturally, it might have been affected when construction was occurring in this area. In 1962 the Pond trail was formed when Sun Oil made a road along the base of the hill. The present trail partially follows the actual road used by the gas company, where about thirty feet of land were cleared on either side of the road. Some of this land is now under water or marsh, but the remainder has been growing since the land was abandoned in the late '30's.
Hillside of the Nature Preserve
The Hillside of the Nature Preserve was formed during the last glacial period about 15,000 years ago. When the glaciers advanced from the north they pushed up the land before them and accumulated sediment (till). During the glacial melt, a moderately thick layer of this till was deposited on the steep north facing slopes, while the south facing slopes were left covered with a thicker layer of till. According to the aerial photos, the majority of the hillside has been vegetated since at least the early 1900s.
Oak Trail Forest
Located on the south-east side of Harpur Pond, the Oak trail forest is found on the north facing slope and can be described in terms of an upper and a lower section. The upper section is characterized by deeply pitted hillside with 15-35% slopes, and dry, strongly acidic, low fertile, erosion prone, soils, which are underlain by an impermeable layer of glacial till. With the characteristics of a steep slope and the poor soil quality, this site was not very available for many of the local land use practices such as tilling, logging, or grazing. Deer, who can greatly affect the regeneration of a forest, also cannot readily reach this area since the slope is too great for them to easily climb, especially in winter. The lack of easy access has allowed this land to grow relatively undisturbed for many years, leading to the Oak trail forest containing normal populations and reproduction having being some of the oldest forest on campus with many trees 110 to 160 years old.
The lower Oak Trail Forest has different land characteristics than the upper forest. The main differences between the two areas are the gentler hillside slope (2-15%) and type of soil present. Even though the gentler slope allows the land to be less prone to erosion and drought and soil acidity is lower here, the soil still has low fertility and poor drainage.
In a study done by Haworth in 1999, it was found that the lower trail forest was at a slightly further point in succession than the upper woods. However, the difference was small enough to assume that the two sites were at similar phases of succession. By examining the 1937 aerial photos, the Oak trail forest is seen to be only one small section of an area that has been fully vegetated for quite some time. The exact origin of these woods is not known, but being at similar points in succession lends support to the idea that these two areas could have had a similar origin and time period.
Saddle Trail Forest
The trail that runs through this area is named for the shape of the land, a saddle. When the glaciers came down from the north, they were slowed up by some of the hills. Over time the glaciers formed a "saddle", a rounded out, depressed area in the hillside. Since the saddle faces the north and certain areas lack direct sunlight during the day, cooler microclimates can form and allow certain tree species to grow that would not usually be able to inhabit land in this warm of a climate.
Moving farther up the hill, the forest transitions to a pole stand forest on land, which used to be tilled. According to the photos, the land was abandoned as farmland somewhere between 1940 to 1950, and by 1965 there were areas of light vegetation on both the north and east sides of the property.
Field Trail Forest
The old field gently slopes up here with a gradual north to south transition from forest to young forest to shrub land to field. The ever-increasing shrub land due to habitat maintenance is close to 7 acres.
Extensive work has been done in this field to create a maximum diversity habitat for birds. The field atop the preserve is incredibly important because it is some of the only remaining open field habitat in the county. To date, the Friends of the Nature Preserve have cleared about 3.2 acres of grassland on the top field and a little less than 7 acres of shrub land just north of the field. Hopefully with the open area, we can attract early brush and shrub land birds. Bird boxes, which were constructed by the Friends, have been placed on the borders of the open field are now being used by birds such as the House Wrens, Tree Swallows, and Black-capped Chickadees.
Going down the Saddle trail the path remains straight but is actually heading away from the old field, to the east where this transition occurs is a roughly 14 acre piece of forest that was acquired as part of the Martin property. Signs of old age for this forest can be found by looking at the multiple trunked Red maples that are present. These trees are estimated to be about 80 years old; meaning that the they were logged leaving a stump behind to regrow more then 80 years ago. But 80 years is not even the age of the forest, for it to be worthwhile to cut the trees they must have been of a decent size and growing for some number of years. Therefore this area could have been forest anywhere from 110 to 150 years ago.
Following the Saddle trail down the hill it makes a 90 degree left turn, almost where the Ridge trail and Saddle trail meet. Continuing on the Saddle trail to the north is an older forest with Sugar maples and oaks. The trail crosses over an old road that used to be used for either logging or for moving hay and other products of the field. The road is now littered with stones and has become an ephemeral stream. Finally at the base of the hill the Saddle and Connector trails meet.
Where the Connector trail goes east from this junction, the land extends up hill with a gentle slope. The Connector trail continues to the east over uneven ground around the base of the hill until it joins with the west end of the Oak trail. Along the way the trail comes into a stretch of woods on the uphill side that is the most expansive and oldest forest on campus. Heading in the opposite direction on the Connector trail, west from where it meet the Saddle trail, one can pick up the Redwing trail. The Redwing trail is named for the Red-winged Blackbird; that can be seen along it throughout the spring and summer. On its western most edge near the base of the water tower trail, the woods have undergone rapid change. The land started out as open field in the early 1930s but by 1965 had become quite populated with Red maples. Then in the '80s the beavers moved in and constructed a dam drowning the land and killing all the young trees. The area then drained in the late '90s due to the destruction of both the beavers and the dam. Now a wetland remains.
A cleared track splits off and heads up the hill at the start of the Redwing trail. This steep rocky, eroded area heads to the water tanks atop the hill. These three tanks supply campus with water and run on a gravity feed system. During night hours when there is a low demand for water, water is pulled up the hill and stored in the tanks; then throughout the day during peak water use periods, water is sent by gravity, down hill and fed to all the buildings on campus. The water tank that used to supply campus was located in a small clearing in the southern portion of the CIW woods. The tank was removed by the late 1970's, when the university was growing and demand from water was too high for the single tank. By 1965 one of the three current tanks was built, the next followed by 1977, and the third sometime in the mid- 1990's.
East and north of the tanks is the Forest Loop trail, beginning and ending on the West Access Road. The western leg of the Forest Loop trail meets up with the Water Tank Spur which heads out in a north-westerly direction. Traveling over level ground, this trail is set on a series of benches that run below the water tower. Situated between the water tower and the Forest Loop trail, this small section has been growing and forested for more than seven decades.
One of the most interesting features of the Nature Preserve is the community of anthills that inhabit the woods and right of way south of the water towers. Formica exsectoides, the Allegheny Mound-building Ant, build mounds that can reach dimensions of four feet long by two feet wide by two feet high. Most of the hills have short steep north facing slopes, usually covered with grass, and long gradual, bare slopes on the south side in order to maximally absorb heat from the sun, a beautiful example of passive solar design. A clearing in the center of the woods is found with more than twenty separate hills. Turning and heading west from here one can pick up the Anthill trail, which is part of an old right of way that is beginning to become overgrown. The trail is also lined with these anthill structures, mainly on the east side of the trail, all the way back to the water towers. Few studies that I know of have been done on these insects, perhaps because they bite, but I am sure these ants and their way of life would make an interesting future independent study.
The university has recently acquired a patch of land, about 45 acres, at the southern end of the right of way running behind the water tower. All of the land to the west of the right of way, down to Fuller Hollow Road, was either being tilled or regularly cleared in the 1930's. By 1955, most of the tilling had ceased but up through 1965 cutting was still being done, possibly for hay. The 1977 aerial photos, however, show that by then most of the land had been abandoned. The area has probably remained in the shrub stage for so long since there is not really any direct seed source west of there, where most of the winds come from.
Bunn Hill Road Property
This roughly 55 acre property is actually a combination of seven parcels of land. Most of the southern portion was donated to the university by Aswad. Access to this land is easiest from Bunn Hill Road; there is a small pull off to the west before Dodd Road. The pull off is actually a man-made land bridge filling in part of the ravine. The earth used to construct this bridge was taken from the site of the Anderson center when it was being built. All of the material from the site was dumped here forming this mound cross over. The most important feature of this land is the deep ravine that runs through it in a north-east to south-west direction.
Information adapted from History and Natural Resource Inventory of Binghamton University's Campus Nature Preserve and Natural Areas, an honors thesis by Kevin Brozyna, Spring 2003.