Summer Update: WILDWes uproots WestCo Courtyard in search for elusive Smurf

Hey there Wes-folks!

So, while you’re out there in the big wide world fighting the famine in Somalia, getting down with the mountain goats in Baluchistan, playing with kids in inner-city Delaware, selling your booty out to corporate firms for a line in your resume, or just plain dancing on tables in Thailand to raise enough money for the flight back home (ah, sweet Spring Break ’09 memories), lots of interesting stuff has been happening back here at good ol’ Wes.

PAC’s getting a face-lift, for example. And a couple of professors have now spawned offspring.

Also, a renegade group of students calling themselves WILDWes have taken up arms and invaded the WestCo courtyard. Preliminary reports reveal that they have been actively ripping out the ground, frolicking about gleefully while shirtless, and generally committing acts that one would equate with the adjective “granola.” According to their website (clicky to visit), their primary goal is to “prove the viability of low-maintenance, low-input landscaping, and to demonstrate that this type of design is more sustainable, more attractive, and more socially accessible to all who work and live on campus” using the WestCo site as a maiden example.

Confused as to what this means, I sat down with one of these odd fellows, Katie McConnell ’13, to see what this whole business is about. Check out the interview after the jump. (Warning: Long ass post ahead!)

So could you tell us exactly what you’re doing to WestCo’s backyard?

This summer we’ve been focusing on rejuvenating the soil so that the site is ready to be planted next spring. Right now the courtyard is super compacted with little to no topsoil, and has huge problems with erosion. To deal with that we have dug swales, which are basically really small ditches that run along the contour of the slope. They catch rainwater and give it time to soak into the ground, rather than running directly into the storm drains. We’re also working on sheet mulching, which is a process of building up the organic material in the earth, and involves layering compost, cardboard, and mulch directly onto the grass. We’re hoping to put a cover crop on top of the sheet mulch, which will probably be clover or some other small ground cover.

How has the Administration’s reaction been to your project?

The Administration has been pretty receptive to the project, but we definitely had to do a lot of research and planning before we were allowed to actually have a site to work on. The challenge has not been administrators saying no, but figuring out how to coordinate and execute plans when they say yes. Most of our work has been with the Green Building Committee and Physical Plant, both of which have been very helpful to us in our process. The head of Grounds, Dave Hall, has been especially supportive and active in the project this summer. Over the course of the year we have received really generous funding primarily for the Green Fund, as well as the SBC and the College of the Environment.

What is WILDWes’ long-term goal?

Our long-term goal is to convert as much of Wesleyan’s traditional, Kentucky Bluegrass lawn to sustainable, organic alternatives. Overall, we want to reduce the amount of fertilizers, pesticides, and potable water that go into maintaining the landscapes that we have now, but also to create more interesting and productive alternatives (think fruit and nut trees and shrubs, native plants, perennial vegetables, etc.). This paradigm looks really different from place to place depending on how the space is used. For instance, we aren’t about to try to cover Andrus or Foss in wildflowers, but maybe someday we can look into using a ground cover there that has the same function as the current grass, but requires fewer inputs. This is one of our biggest concerns in the WestCo Courtyard – how to design it so that is stays a really accessible social space.

Smurf Hunters

How feasible do you think that is?

Based on demonstrated Administrative support and the availability of Green Fund funding, I actually think that this is a relatively feasible goal, although very far in the future. It’s success will depend mostly on continuing student involvement, and probably there will be a point when we will need to be more institutionalized (such as having a Landscape Designer on staff). A lot of New England schools (like Wellesley, UMass Amherst, and Middlesex Community College) are already moving in the same direction that we are, which is promising.

Where are you guys in your project right now?

Right now the swales have been constructed, and we are working on sheet mulching the entire area. In a couple weeks we will be adding in biochar to the compost, which is organic matter that has been pyrolyzed, and helps to retain water and nutrients in the soil. This will continue through August, and then in September and October we will be having some work days for people to come out and help finish up the mulching. Over the course of the year, students in the student forum, Sustainable Landscape Design Studio will finish up designs and detailed implementation plans, so we can start planting this coming spring.

How has the WestCo student administration reacted to this?

We’ve gone to a few Guidance sessions and have gotten positive feedback, but we definitely hope to be much more involved with the WestCo community this coming year than just attending these meetings. We plan to facilitate forums for feedback from the community, and are hoping to get as many WestCo residents involved in the student group, work sessions, and the student forum as we can, so that they have an active role in what the landscape will end up looking like. We’re in kind of a weird position because the Green Building Committee really pushed for us to work on this site over several others we were looking at, but ultimately the Courtyard is the WestCo community’s space, and we really want to respect that. We would like for our work to be collaborative and community-engaging, not invasive, and so we are asking for any and all feedback at all stages of this process.

Let’s talk about the recently re-emancipated Zonker Harris Day. What will this all mean for Comrade Harris?

In the short term, Zonker Harris Day will probably be most affected not by our designs, but by Physical Plant taking out the huge beech trees in the Courtyard. It was really sad to watch them be chopped down this summer, but, as I understand it, they were really sick, and taking them out will help prevent the spread of beech bark disease to other trees around campus. The landscaping we do will definitely add back in lots of trees, and we’re looking into finding plants that will be in bloom specifically around that time. So in the long term, we’re trying to add in some botanical color and texture to Zonker Harris Day, while keeping plenty of space open for people to hang out in.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hm, well I’m from Idaho, I’m studying anthropology and environmental studies, I’m currently living in a pseudo-farm-collective… looking for anything particular?

How about your associates? Is there a leader, and does ze allow you collective bargaining rights?

We don’t have any single leader and there are lots of students involved, but the two students who are leading the student forum next year are Emma Leonard ’13 and Andrew Pezzullo ’13, and the person directing the student group (which is more based in fundraising, public outreach, and that kind of thing) is Manon Lefevre ’14. But there are actually tons of people who spend a lot of time on this project, it’s only been this summer that the work has been more concentrated because people are gone.

To find out more about WILDWes and the project, head over to their website.

If you want to get involved, know more, or if you just need a friend, you can email Ms. McConnell at kamcconnell(at)wesleyan(dot)edu.

Have a great rest of summer, folks. And don’t worry about this debt ceiling thing – if it all goes to hell, we can all go to Canada. (I hear Nova Scotia is great!)

[Thanks to the Wesleyan Connection fo’ da pix! Also, BZOD] [nggallery id=71]

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13 thoughts on “Summer Update: WILDWes uproots WestCo Courtyard in search for elusive Smurf

  1. Pingback: Wesleyan Unofficial Reentry One-Shot: Upgrades, Side-grades, and New Stuff in General – Wesleying

  2. Pingback: WILDWes Sheet-Mulching Work Day – Wesleying

  3. Anon

    they cut down that huge tree??? i thought you people were supposed to be environmentalists!!!

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