Senior Carrick Conway takes care of plants that will be used in Slayton Arboretum's hillside restoration. (Laurie Rosenberg/Courtesy)
Senior Carrick Conway takes care of plants that will be used in Slayton Arbore­tum’s hillside restoration. (Laurie Rosenberg/Courtesy)

Envi­ron­mental Stew­ardship stu­dents are taking their passion for con­ser­vation to the Slayton Arboretum, thanks to a grant from the Hillsdale County Com­munity Foun­dation.

After Hillsdale College applied this summer for a grant to improve the quality of life of Hillsdale County res­i­dents, it received $4,287, said Susan Stout, HCCF director of com­munity pro­grams. The grant is for the restoration and enhancement of a witch-hazel garden and the cre­ation of a rain garden.

“The restoration process is a learning oppor­tunity for stu­dents with its hands-on aspect, and we’re able to do that because we have the arboretum,” Arboretum Program Director Laurie Rosenberg said. “We can actually use it as a living lab­o­ratory.”

With the removal of invasive species like hon­ey­suckle and Norway maple, which grow so thick other plants can’t survive nearby, witch hazel, a yellow flow­ering plant, can flourish in the arb.

“Our goal in that area is to encourage the growth of witch hazel, which is part of the original col­lection planted by Dr. Barber,” Rosenberg said.

Bertram Barber was a pro­fessor of biology who worked to develop the arboretum for more than 40 years until his death in 1967.

As for the rain garden, that idea came from stu­dents who took the Envi­ron­mental Stew­ardship course last year. After studying soil con­ser­vation, they sought a garden designed to collect runoff water and prevent erosion.

“We were able to get the grant because we’d done the back­ground research ahead of time to doc­ument how we could solve the problem of erosion,” Rosenberg said.

Stu­dents are now studying ways of restoring veg­e­tation, learning about dif­ferent plants, and coming up with their own ideas to improve the soil in the arb, which is of poor quality because it is atop an old gravel pit.

As a part of the class, senior Carrick Conway is also planning an event in the arb for local ele­mentary and middle school stu­dents.

“Some­thing that we’ve dis­cussed is: how do you make it so that it’s more than just yourself trying to fight this fight of con­ser­vation?” Conway said. “How do you recruit people from the com­munity and instill in them that desire to con­serve and protect nature for future gen­er­a­tions?”

Rosenberg said people should just start with where they can make a bit of a dif­ference.

“You can’t control all areas of ecosystem,” Rosenberg said. “So you need to say, ‘Okay, what part of the whole big picture can I influence? Where can I make a dif­ference?’”