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?’”