Just south of the Newcomer Center, a large rectangle of once-green grass is now a brown blot on the field.
Roundup, an herbicide, was applied to the grass to make way for the planting of various native species, which will retain water, filter atmospheric carbon and reduce maintenance costs. This project, which is being headed up by a team of students, professors and Physical Plant employees, is one of two tall-grass prairie restorations that are happening simultaneously at Goshen College.
The second project, an experimental tall-grass prairie restoration in Witmer Woods, is being carried out by members of Ryan Sensenig’s General Ecology course as a way to gather data on grassland restoration. Sensenig, a professor in the Biology department, has done extensive work with tall-grass prairie restoration, and is advising both projects.
The first prairie plot is being prepared just south of Newcomer, and came about because of a proposal by Trevor Kauffman, Isaac Beachy and Nathan Yoder, who were all students in an economics class at the time. The point was to design a sustainability project that was economically justifiable. The three students suggested that by removing manicured sod and planting native grasses in its stead, the school could save money on maintenance, since native grasses do not need to be mowed or artificially watered.
Though Kauffman, Beachy and Yoder have since graduated, it looks like their tall-grass prairie is finally going to be planted, at an estimated cost of between $3,000 and $3,500.
Glenn Gilbert, the Physical Plant’s Utilities Manager and Sustainability Coordinator said, “It is being funded primarily through projected savings from reduced maintenance costs."
When the project’s designers graduated, they passed on their responsibilities to a younger generation of students. Alana Kenagy, a junior, Jake Snyder, a junior, and Andy Brubaker, a senior, have taken over the student leadership of this project, and now that they have killed the grass at their on-campus plot, they’re just waiting to plant seeds.
Planting is planned for Oct. 22, to coordinate with seed planting at the Witmer Woods plot, and will be part of a weeklong sustainability event in coordination with Bill McKibben’s 350.org action day on Oct. 24.
The restoration project in Witmer Woods is less formal than the on-campus version, and is more oriented toward research and learning opportunities than economic interests.
“For me, the goal is for students in ecology class to experiment with what it's like to do a restoration project,” said Sensenig. “The secondary goal is to increase habitat down there. We have a little prairie down there, but it’s not very big. Increasing habitat of native plants does a couple things. It’s aesthetically pleasing; it sequesters carbon; it reduces mowing. It is also a site we can continue to study for the pursuit of science… We’re doing restoration and trying to collect some data about how we can do restoration better.”
After the tall-grass has been planted outside of Newcomer, it is possible that the prairie will be graded and incorporated into a bio-retention pond to decrease water runoff from the nearby parking lot.