Although I submitted this article to Lehigh’s student newspaper a few months ago, The Brown and White, it never got published (in the paper or online) for unbeknownst reasons. It refers to the upcoming plans to renovate Williams Hall, and my concerns for the future fascinating and historical forest directly adjacent to the building.
The recently drafted Campus Master Plan lays out the administrative vision for future improvements to Lehigh’s Campus. (Check out the whole plan at https://www.lehigh.edu/~inspig/lu_cmp_book_10-4-12.pdf). I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a graduate student senate meeting focused on aspects of this plan, and was very troubled by the idea to re-landscape the area behind Williams Hall (the building behind Linderman Library that housed Earth and Environmental Sciences before STEPS was built) to allow more pedestrian access. Although plans have not been implemented yet, I worry that the ecological, historical, and educational significance of this location may not be given proper consideration—mainly because the area is not well known to Lehigh students and has apparently been mostly forgotten by the administrative body.
The forested area behind Williams Hall and Sayre Park Road is in fact a legacy left by Professor Francis Trembley (yes, the same guy that Trembley Park apartments were named after, although I doubt he would have appreciated this). Professor Trembley was a well-loved ecology professor who taught at the university for 42 years. He was remembered best in Robert Halma and Carl Oplinger’s book The Lehigh Valley: A Natural and Environmental History as “a teacher with a mission and an enthusiasm that became pivotal in shaping the ecological conscience of the Lehigh Valley.” The forested area behind Williams Hall, called the “Tangled Bank,” is one of the only non-manicured areas on Lehigh’s whole campus, and Professor Trembley fought hard to make it that way. In the 1960s, he advocated for the cessation of mowing in the area, allowing the plants to regrow naturally via the process of ecological succession. Since the late 1960s, the area has transitioned from domination by annual and perennial wildflowers to a small but diverse plot of forest that looks incredibly different from the park-like ornamental trees and grassy areas typical of the rest of the Asa Packer Campus.
But it’s not just about how this forest looks. Nor is it simply about the historical significance of the area. Professor Trembley’s vision was to provide students with an outdoor laboratory right outside of the classroom, and today the Tangled Bank is providing exactly this. Students in Professor Booth’s Ecology course (EES-152) are using the Tangled Bank to examine the processes underlying ecological succession. Building on data collected by Trembley’s students in the 1960s, the area is providing valuable lessons about how forests grow back after being heavily modified—with implications for forest management and conservation. (See Professor Booth’s blog post for details on what the class is doing there: http://amongthestatelytrees.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/experiential-learning-on-the-tangled-bank-plant-traits-and-ecological-succession/)
The vision presented in the Campus Master Plan for this unique place is aesthetically pleasing. Carefully manicured lawns and ornamental trees will create a nice walkway adjacent to or through the area, and the area will look similar to the rest of our beautiful campus. However, wouldn’t it be nice keep this area of wildness in the midst of our campus, and perhaps allow it to shape our vision of natural beauty? And allow this area to continue to serve as an outdoor laboratory for generations of Lehigh students to come? This, much more so than the apartment complex that bears his name, would be an appropriate tribute to the inspirational spirit of Professor Trembley.
For more information on plans for the Tangled Bank, check out this article: http://www4.lehigh.edu/news/newsarticle.aspx?Channel=%2fChannels%2fNews+2013&WorkflowItemID=fbdb16fe-f37f-432f-b099-60dd5d968243