Improving Access to the IC Natural Lands

By Kyle Hornyak, December 5, 2018
Students and faculty collaborate to remove barriers to Boothroyd Woods Trail.
A group of people walking through the woods

Students hike in the Ithaca College Natural Lands.

(Photo by Jacob Beil/Ithaca College)

Ithaca College’s commitment to sustaining an inclusive environment extends to the 560 acres of forest surrounding the campus: the Ithaca College Natural Lands. Students and faculty members regularly work together on projects using the Natural Lands as an outdoor classroom, and IC and Ithaca community members can enjoy seven miles of trails throughout the lands. However, prohibitive slopes and uneven surfaces make access to the Natural Lands extremely limited for people with mobility impairments. Now, thanks to two recent grants from the J.M. McDonald Foundation and the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation, a student-led initiative to improve access to one of the most inviting parcels of forest will make the Natural Lands more accessible to members of the campus and surrounding communities.

A raised gravel bed turnpike more than half a mile long has been constructed near the entrance of the Boothroyd Woods Trail near Boothroyd Hall. Additionally, an eight-foot wide path of paved asphalt, funded by the two foundations, will connect the campus with the turnpike and an informational kiosk. This project will also improve drainage and reduce erosion, making the trail more sustainable as well as more accessible.

Jake Brenner, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, is faculty manager of the lands and serves as the IC Natural Lands committee co-chair with Timothy Carey, associate vice president and chief facilities officer. Brenner’s passion for and expertise in human-environment geography (the study of how humans interact with natural environments) makes him a “natural” fit for the faculty manager position.

“What the Natural Lands have been lacking is physical accessibility. The paved approach path will make it much easier to get to the trail. As soon as you’re in the parking lot, you see the inviting trail entrance. The goal is to bring the trail to the people.”

Associate professor Jake Brenner, faculty manager of the IC Natural Lands

The proximity of IC’s campus to the Natural Lands provides opportunities for the campus community to collaborate on innovative land management. IC students take on leadership roles in day-to-day operations and projects such as the improvement of the Boothroyd Woods Trail.

Oscar Mayer ’19 is the current Natural Lands student intern. The Natural Lands were a huge draw for Mayer, an environmental studies and sciences major, to attend IC in the first place. “I’ve always connected so much to being outside in fresh air, exploring the outdoors and enjoying the peace it brings. Having all these acres of woodlands surrounding the campus creates truly unique and special opportunities for students.”

After Mayer graduates, fellow environmental studies and sciences student Sam Hillmann ’20 will serve as student intern. Like Mayer, Hillmann has been involved since his first year at IC. “I’ve always loved the Natural Lands; they’re one of Ithaca’s most valuable resources,” Hillmann says. “The amount and diversity of nature is incredible.”

Both Mayer and Hillman got involved stewarding the Natural Lands their first year at IC, and since then have worked with Brenner and other students to tackle projects like the recent Boothroyd Woods Trail improvements. “It’s really the students who coordinate with the facilities team, not the faculty,” Hillmann says. “Brenner is always there as a resource, but it’s important for students to learn about actually managing a natural area.”

Three young people collect pond water in vials

Environmental studies and sciences students collect water samples in the IC Natural Lands.

(Photo by Jacob Beil/Ithaca College)

Brenner is confident that the recent student-led improvements will allow more Ithaca community members to access and enjoy the IC Natural Lands. “What the Natural Lands have been lacking is physical accessibility,” Brenner says. “The paved approach path will make it much easier to get to the trail. As soon as you’re in the parking lot, you see the inviting trail entrance. The goal is to bring the trail to the people.”

One person who has been consistently coming to the trail regardless of its condition is Barbara Skoblick. Recently retired after working for 25 years at nearby Cornell University, Skoblick was looking for volunteer activities in which she and her husband, Larry, could participate. Their shared love of the outdoors and proximity to the IC Natural Lands led them to become involved with a program through the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute that recruited retirees to volunteer as land stewards.

As part of their responsibilities, Skoblick and her husband hike the trails regularly, reporting on their observations. “It was a lot of fun,” she says. “We both learned a lot through identifying trees, wildflowers, mushrooms... you see lots of different wildlife every time you go through the Natural Lands.”

Traversing the trail was not always easy. “The trail was a bit rough in the beginning,” Skoblick acknowledges. “The poor drainage would turn the trail into a string of mud pits or ice dams. There would be water just sitting on the trail that would freeze.”

The recent upgrades to the trail, namely the paved walkway and drainage pipes, have made a huge difference in her and Larry’s experience as land stewards, and she hopes the Ithaca community will enjoy the increased access to the Natural Lands. “I think more people will use the trail now that it’s no longer full of rocks and roots,” Skoblick says. “It’s more convenient and much easier to get around. The trail really is a very nice place to go, especially now that it’s not a big mess,” she says, laughing.

Learn more about the Ithaca College Natural Lands

Visit ICNaturalLands.com for more information.