South Hill Natural Area - East
South Hill Natural Area – East (SHNA-East) is the most heavily used natural area, and the most proximate to the built campus. The ecological richness and established trail systems in these 365 acres provide a multitude of opportunities for the IC community, but education is the top priority.
SHNA - East measures 365 acres in area and is located immediately south of and adjacent to Ithaca College’s (IC) built campus (Map 1). The close proximity of SHNA-East results in more frequent and intensive use than other ICNL reserves.
Before the college’s acquisition of what is now SHNA-East, the land was used for agriculture and animal husbandry. Evidence of these land uses are still readily apparent to the trained eye in the form of stone walls and wire fence lines dissecting SHNA-East’s forests. When Ithaca College moved its campus from the DeWitt Park neighborhood to South Hill, the property that would become SHNA-East was included in the original land acquisition.
Professor Jason Hamilton has published a book specifically detailing the ecological diversity found in SHNA - East. It's available online on issuu.com and in a pdf format. We recommend bringing it with you on your adventures in the Natural Lands as a resource to expand your knowledge and appreciation of this incredible natural area.
There is also a useful brochure outlining many of the key features on SHNA - East, available from our website here.
Major characteristics of SHNA-East include a mix of successional shrubland, wetland mosaics, contiguous wetlands, and a diversity of successional forest types. A 2001 assessment of the ecological communities of SHNA-East recognized SHNA-East as ecologically diverse due to a variety of soil types and depths, topography, and past and present human activities. The study identified nine different ecological communities, of which three (Perched Swamp White Oak Swamp, Pitch Pine-Oak Forest, and Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit) are identified as vulnerable at the state level according to the criteria of the New York Natural Heritage Program. The Perched Swamp White Oak Swamp is also designated as a Unique Natural Area by Tompkins County and categorized as vulnerable at the global level. This rare community is characterized by depressions in shallow bedrock at the top of South Hill, which during periods of relatively high rainfall retain water, creating seasonal swamp conditions despite the otherwise well-drained, dry, rocky substrates common throughout the ridge areas of South Hill. Based on this same study, 24 vascular plants and lichens were found to be rare (8) or scarce (16) on the local level. At the state level, three species are listed as endangered:Carex flaccosperma var. glaucodea (blue wood sedge), Carex retroflexa (reflexed sedge), and Carex willdenowii (Willdenow’s sedge). While the study did not classify any portion of SHNA-East as primary forest (i.e., never previously logged), there are certain places in SHNA-East that contain large trees of >40 cm in trunk diameter, >150 years in age, with dense canopy cover, and other elements of relatively old growth forest (Map 3: L1 and L2). In the Cayuga Lake basin, forests with any elements of old growth are locally scarce (Stafford-Glase et al 2001). The Environmental Management Council of Tompkins County declared most of South Hill Natural Area – East as a Unique Natural Area (UNA) for its biological importance.
The Volunteer Stewards Program is for students, faculty, and staff, is a critical part of land preservation and management in SHNA - East. The Volunteer Stewards Program is designed following the example of a similar program run by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The program serves two main purposes: forest disturbance monitoring and campus community outreach. Each steward is responsible for monitoring a parcel of land on SHNA-East. Stewards are required to patrol their assigned parcels weekly and submit reports monthly that document significant observations of change. In the past, stewards have alerted the ICNLC of biological invasions, clandestine hunting, and human impacts such as trash and vandalism. In addition to learning about the land, Stewards have access to training in topics such as forestry, tree identification, Leave No Trace principles, invasive plant management, edible and medicinal plants, and bird identification. Trainings also improve the quality of Stewards’ reports.
If you are interested in becoming a steward, please visit our informational page to learn more and join!
Preservation activities on SHNA-East also include three United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)-mediated wetland mitigation projects. The Raponi and Rich Road wetlands were created in 2009 to offset jurisdictional wetland habitats replaced by the construction of the Athletics and Events Center (A&EC) during 2009-2011. In accordance with the USACE, the Raponi and Rich Road wetlands were designated with conservation easements held jointly by the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the Town of Ithaca. In 2011 the College expanded the Circle Apartments, in the process replacing an additional 0.1 acres of wetland requiring mitigation. Developed by LeCain Environmental Services in conjunction with the USACE, the plan for this project involves enhancement of approximately three acres of the Perched Swamp White Oak Swamp forest through invasive exotic plant mapping and eradication. The principal species of concern is Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), with several other less threatening invasive exotic plants of secondary importance.
Education & Research:
SHNA – East provides an excellent environment for education because of its close proximity to campus and its diversity of forest types and habitats. Rare communities provide research and teaching opportunities not readily available elsewhere.
A grove of nut-producing trees was designed and planted by students on the northeast side of the Raponi mitigation wetlands in fall 2011. Predominant species include white and red oak (Quercus rubra and Q. alba, respectively), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and walnut (Juglans spp.). Initially the site will be used for teaching principles of forest orchard management. Once the trees are old enough to produce a crop, they will be used for teaching, production, and both basic and applied research.
Also used by the Non-Timber Forest Products course (ENVS 350) is a stand of mature sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) located on the eastern edge of SHNA-East. Here maple syrup production takes place in the spring, with students from the course leading workshops for the IC community at the sugar bush, and teaching sustainable forest use. More information on the student-run company "South Hill Forest Products" (which arose from this course) can be found at their website, here.
The wetland mitigation projects located on SHNA-East have provided numerous research and education opportunities. Student research projects in Biology have established baseline amphibian and wildlife use of the new wetland areas. Wetland monitoring is extensively integrated into the Senior Research course in Environmental Studies and Sciences (ENVS 450) and the General Ecology course in Biology (BIOL 271). Students have created a database cataloging their research experiences, design plans, results, and reflections before and after the completion of their projects.
Other student-run research projects include:
- Environmental effects of historic trash dumping on South Hill
- Mapping historic stone walls
- Trail maintenance to protect a rare native plant
- Effects of deer (Odocoileus virginianus) browsing on forest species composition
- American Chestnut (Castanea dentate) reintroduction
- Individual temperament and space use of eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus)
SHNA-East provides numerous recreation opportunities. Students, faculty, staff, and neighbors enjoy several miles of trails through forests, meadows, and wetlands. South Hill Natural Area – East is unique in this respect as it currently serves the broader campus community (i.e., outside the natural science departments) to a greater degree than other reserves. In addition, clubs and athletic teams use this area throughout the year.