Tree planting project to spruce up, protect Roanoke's Elizabeth Campus

The Elizabeth Campus map tracks future locations for new trees.

The Elizabeth Campus map tracks future locations for new trees.

Students will plant trees on April 20 at Elizabeth Campus.

Roanoke College's scenic campus has been named one of the nation's most beautiful by the Princeton Review.

The tree cover over the College's front quad and throughout other areas of campus helps to create Roanoke's picturesque image.

Now, the college is turning its beautification efforts to its sister space, the Elizabeth Campus.

This school year, a group of Roanoke students, staff and faculty members are sprucing up the College's Elizabeth Campus by planting new trees. Some students who are involved in environmental groups on campus have joined efforts with faculty and staff to plant new trees and replace fallen ones.

"Something that you have to understand about Elizabeth Campus is that the tree scape over there is very elderly and not in good shape." said Dr. Jon Cawley, associate professor of environmental studies at Roanoke. "With increased winds, the old trees are not doing well."

Roanoke College acquired Elizabeth Campus, formerly the Lutheran Children's Home, in 1984. Currently, the satellite campus, located on Lynchburg Turnpike in Salem, has five residence halls and several athletic fields used for intercollegiate sports. Orphans who lived at the children's home more than 60 years ago planted the spruce trees that decorate EC today. 

Meanwhile, on Roanoke's main campus, more than 100 trees were planted last year. The trees may seem small now, but they will grow to have a huge impact on Roanoke's image.

Cawley and others in the Environmental Studies department are key members of the team that wants to design and carry out a plan to improve the treescape at EC. The students in Cawley's environmental studies capstone course have partnered with two Roanoke organizations-- RC Sustain and Earthbound-- and the Roanoke College grounds crew to turn this plan into a reality.

Cawley said that besides adding beauty, there are other benefits of planting more foliage on campus. New trees can protect the campus' land and buildings from wind damage and can reduce money spent on air conditioning and heating costs.

Cawley's environmental capstone course students are leading and making decisions related to the tree selection and maintaining communication with all people involved in the project. 

"Our role is to make sure it happens," said Carrie Carson '13, one of the capstone students. "We are trying to keep on top of the project and organize everything."

Students involved in this project are gaining valuable experience that they can apply to future careers.

"Anytime that you can professionally do urban forestry and landscape design, that goes on your resume," Cawley said. "Planning for windbreak or storm water issues and heating and cooling, those are skills that have gotten our students jobs."

The class has not only been picking out trees and examining environmental issues. They also are planning the logistics of the project. Among many tasks, the students have had to write letters to campus officials to get their plans approved, and they have been contacting businesses to raise money for the project.

"It's been a lot of hands-on learning," Carson said. "We have gotten to meet with people and work on presenting our ideas. In the real world, you aren't just sitting at a desk writing theoretical papers. You are actually out making things happen and that is what we are doing."

The first steps in this project were to survey the area, identify existing trees on the EC campus and choose locations for the future trees.

"You can have the wrong trees in a location," said David Wiseman, manager of library information systems at Roanoke and co-coordinator of RC Sustain, the College's sustainability committee.

Wiseman said that part of the plan is to choose the right trees for the campus, not ones that will drop large limbs, or that will be a nuisance to residents who park their cars on EC.

In November, six students from Earthbound began the preliminary mapping for a Campus Tree Master Plan by visiting EC and plotting out current and future tree locations on a map by hand.

"This is something that Earthbound loves," said Alex Ramey '16, co-president of the organization. "Our group likes the idea of being involved in our campus and making our campus environmentally friendly."

In the last two years there have been two dozen historic apple trees planted in a grove on the property, and there are plans to add other varieties of fruit trees later. In this small orchard, there are two celebrity apple varieties, the Johnny Appleseed tree and Isaac Newton's Gravity apple tree.

The capstone students have chosen various types of trees for this project, including cherry trees and copper beech trees. A special addition to EC will be 10 Dunstan Chestnuts that were specifically chosen because of the species' resistance to the tree blight that kills most American Chestnuts.

The first group tree planting is scheduled for April 20 at noon at EC. Students are inviting the original tree planters, who are the orphans who lived at the Lutheran Children's Home, to the planting event.

"Ultimately if we have trees in the ground and we have started a project that can continue with the next senior class, to me, this has been a success," Carson said.

The planting of the trees will not only have an effect on the appearance of the campus. Cawley hopes that it also will impact the students who plant the trees.

"Anytime that you have a student plant a tree that student will tend to come back and check on his or her tree for the next 70 years," Cawley said. "This really is a way of having students set roots in our community. "

This sentiment rings true for the co-president of Earthbound. Ramey and the other students involved have been devoted to this project and are excited about what it will do for the campus.

"We are not going to see Chestnuts or other long living hardwoods grow up in our time here," Ramey said. "But it is important to us to invest in those things now and invest in the future of the College."

-Published March 27, 2013

About the Author

Kayla Fuller '14 of Damascus, Va., is a student writer for Roanoke's Public Relations office. She is a communications major, with a minor in literary studies, and she is involved in several campus organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Young Life and Lambda Pi Eta, a communications honor society. She also is a tour guide for Roanoke's Admissions office. Kayla plans to pursue a career in public relations.

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