IU nature walks provide hands on learning

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Sep. 30, 2002 


Not far from campus early Saturday, more than 30 people hiked through the lush brush of the Griffy Nature Preserve. Amid the chirping of birds and rustling of trees, professor Scott Sanders explained how to stay connected to the earth that surrounded the crowd.

Sanders led the first of a series of hikes through the nature preserve. Last week he led a walk with the topic "Rooting Ourselves in the Land."

The walks were instituted by the IU board of trustees for the purpose of research and understanding of the land only one mile from Assembly Hall, while the preserve and its trails were created during the summer for research and teaching and are open to the public.

This season's walks are a result of the returning interest of those who attended them last spring.

The preserve includes 185 acres at the Griffy Lake location and 261 acres at the Moore's Creek site. The Griffy Lake site is more focused for the use of undergraduates and public research and education, while the Moore's Creek site emphasizes use by faculty and students of the graduate school for research.

Keith Clay, director of the research and teaching of the preserve, is a biology professor at IU. He voiced his interest in the merging of the Bloomington community along with students and faculty of IU in order to carry on the activities and knowledge of the preserve.

"The preserve raises awareness that this exists," Clay said. He continues to speak of the natural state being extremely unusual.

Sanders led the first of the series of walks. Sanders is an English professor at IU and director of the Wells Scholars program. In 1971, he moved to Bloomington after being schooled in New England, and raised his family here.

Sanders said the preserve is an important place where the public can come to have access to the land.

He was asked to lead the first walk because of his books written about the land and the community. The later walks will have topics such as nature and photography, the Griffy Creek, and fall colors. Sanders has a diverse knowledge of the history of the land as well as the ecosystem that encompasses it.

"I applaud the University and the city for their plans to keep the preserve," he said.

The Griffy Lake preserve embraces 185 acres of land that in 1967 was a plowed field, Sanders explained while motioning to the land. He maintains that as a result of succession, vegetation eventually began to grow on the untamed land. Many alien species of vegetation have been brought to the preserve, but will eventually be taken over by the native species because the forest is constantly renewing itself.

Along the trails there are visible paths to follow. Clay explained that students in the Collins Living and Learning Center completed the brand new trails this summer.

"You can go for a walk anytime," Clay said, "but the difference here is that the leaders are experts in their fields."

The students laid wood chips over the muddy ground to create trails for the public to follow. Gina Bonifacino, research associate for the preserve, said they are trying to make the trail more accessible to students.

Since the remodeling of the preserve, many teachers have been seeking to urge their students to become more involved with becoming knowledgeable of the preserve and the ecosystem that surrounds it.

Jennifer Rudgers, a post-doctoral researcher at IU, took her students there on their first day of class.

"The preserve has been useful to my class because it provides a natural area for experiments and observations that is very close to campus," Rudgers said, "which allows us to spend more time in the field and less time driving."

More and more professors are feeling the same way as they begin to present their students with information as well as hands-on experience with the preserve. Rudgers added that even though she frequents the preserve, the Saturday hikes are still a learning experience for her.

"I think that the Saturday hike provided a great opportunity for people to meet others that share an appreciation for Indiana's natural landscape," she said. "The hikers seemed eager to contribute their ideas for how best to shape the preserve to serve the diversity of users from IU and the community."

These walks are a way to educate the public as well as IU students about natural resources located extremely close to the IU campus.

"IU has the chance to become one of the most environmentally concerned and engaged campuses," Sanders said.

Advanced registration is required for the walks as space is limited in order to keep the walks at a personal level. For more information please contact Keith Clay's office at 855-8742.


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