Resilient Campus Forest Project

Allegheny College Community Collaborates on Two Projects To Enhance Trees on Campus

Tree by tree, the Allegheny College community is working together to create a positive, lasting impact on campus trees.

The Resilient Forest Plan is led by Christine Scott Nelson ‘73 Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability Eric Pallant, Director of Sustainability Kelly Boulton ‘02, and Director of Physical Plant Joe Michael. 

The project was boosted by an Environmental Research Methods course where students were challenged to assess the trees of the College, maintain current tree vitality, and identify climate-resistant trees to plant. 

“My main takeaway from our research is the importance of biodiversity,” says Hanna Kneiser ’24, an environmental science and sustainability major and studio art minor. “This work really drove home the point that native trees and vegetation are the foundation to any ecosystem.”

Resilient Campus Forest Project

The research has been extended into a junior seminar and independent study where a campus nursery and planting strategy are being planned. 

“We teach our students about global sustainability, but we also want them to know that sustainability needs to occur in our own backyards,” Pallant says. “This project is a terrific example of how we can maintain the ecological and social values of our own campus forest, protecting the environment as well as enhancing a resource that students truly enjoy and appreciate.”  

Meanwhile, Sebastian McRae ’22 initiated a concurrent project. As a sophomore, McRae proposed a food forest, which has gained input from the Environmental Science and Sustainability Department, Physical Plant Department, and Sustainable Design Team. 

“A food forest is a collection of plants put together to function as an ecosystem and produce lots of food in the process,” says McRae, who is majoring in environmental science and sustainability with a history minor. “They are valuable because, once they are established, they produce abundant food with few labor or chemical inputs, making them a powerful alternative to industrial agriculture, which requires lots of inputs every year.”

In 2018, McRae founded the Sustainable Design Team to practice permaculture design, with the team designing the food forest in early 2020. So far, a peach tree has already been planted, and pathways have been cleared in preparation for more planting. In the coming months, plans call for more than 40 species to occupy 3,000 square feet east of Carr Hall.

McRae encourages the Allegheny College community to get involved by helping to maintain the forest and harvest the produce that will be used in campus dining halls.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability Jesse Swann-Quinn has already received positive feedback from students as the Sustainable Design Team’s advisor.

“I have sensed a lot of energy from students related to the project,” Swann-Quinn says. “Students have shared that they enjoyed the opportunity to make a tangible contribution to both the campus landscape and the work of their friends on the Sustainable Design Team. It offers such wonderful opportunities for experiential education for the students, but also for the community members we hope to invite into the space in the years to come.”