Ithacan article about ICNL Volunteer Stewards Program
Ithaca College Natural Lands Committee launched a new volunteer program for students, faculty and staff to help observe changes in natural land on South Hill through weekly walks.
ICNL, an ecosystem services and advisory group for Ithaca College, aims to maintain the educational value and quality of the college’s natural lands — land that is not built on or landscaped.
A steward is someone who manages and maintains another’s land. Each volunteer steward is expected to make weekly walks through assigned areas. Participants will begin next week junior Emma Hileman, ICNL volunteer steward manager, said.
Last week, volunteer stewards chose a parcel of land that extends from behind Boothroyd, the Towers and Terraces and onto King Road.
Hileman said there is a range of changes that student volunteers will be looking for.
“They will be checking to make sure that there [are] no violations or graffiti in their area,” she said. “They will be looking for changes in the land, like invasive species, and reporting back about what they find in a detailed monthly report.”
Hileman said that ICNL noticed an outbreak of Japanese stilt grass has already begun to spread on South Hill. She said student volunteers will plan how to remove the grass and record their progress in a monthly report.
According to the ICNL Web site, once invasive species, such as Japanese stilt grass and garlic mustard plants, begin growing on the land, they will spread rapidly. The site reports that an outbreak of any invasive species changes the conditions of the natural habitat for animals, resulting in their elimination.
The 365-acre land site on the south side of the college’s campus is only one of the three natural lands that the college owns. Two natural lands in Newfield, N.Y. — Bob Robinson Family Preserve and Ithaca College Natural Resource Reserve — also belong to the college and must be maintained. Jason Hamilton, professor of biology and co-chair of ICNL, said caring for three natural land spaces is a heavy workload for the group of only 17 members of ICNL.
“We have these hundreds of acres of natural areas,” he said. “It’s difficult for a few people to get out to all of these areas on a frequent basis and keep an eye on them.”
There are currently 25 new volunteers, three of which are faculty. Hileman said she was pleased with the number of students who showed interest in the volunteer stewarding program.
Marian Brown, assistant to the provost office and member of ICNL, said the experience of being outdoors and being involved with the environment is crucial to the experience at Ithaca.
“The college is sitting on 750 acres of land that is also part of the campus,” she said. “This learning environment offers up a whole list of other opportunities besides those that are presented indoors.”
ICNL works to make students aware of the lands surrounding Ithaca and is in the process of putting together interpretive nature trails and nature walks through the land on South Hill. Training workshops for faculty and students are also being planned through the stewarded-land committee to inform trainees of the native plants such as red chokeberry and animals such as deer and turkey.
Hamilton said he believes getting involved with the steward program is beneficial for not only those who are looking to make a career out stewarding, but also for those who enjoy being outdoors and learning about nature.
“It’s a great experience for people who might have any interest in doing this as a job or an internship or even in their own backyard,” he said. “A lot of people have never had the chance to take a natural area and care for it in a way that helps them really understand their connection to the area and the area’s connection to them.”
Hamilton said he proposed the idea of having a volunteer natural lands steward program in the spring of 2009 to help the college tend to its lands. This is the first time the program has been introduced to students and faculty.
“[The program] is good for the relations between Ithaca College and the community in the sense that it shows we are responsible stewards of our natural areas,” Hamilton said. “Maybe we could inspire other agencies or people to also be responsible stewards of any natural areas that they’re involved with.”