Ecology & Place
An appreciation and study of the Campus Woods ordered into concise entries.
Late Aug. 2022
My first woods walk of the class! For starters, I live right next to the campus woods, and I have spent years strolling through them. However, I have never taken a systematic approach to understand the woods and its secrets, its varying species, and the overall unique, nuanced inner existence that this valuable forest displays for all those with a keen eye to see. I decided today to explore a part of the woods I had almost no experience in: the Prairie! If you follow University Boulevard eastward, across from the police headquarters is a tiny access road that leads right into the prairie. Due to a quiet, unassuming stream, the prairie can be difficult to access from some entrances.
If I didn’t know from the map that the prairie is part of the woods, I would have thought that it was unused. It is a man-made prairie, forced to be Tall Ironweed and Wild Teasel because of the powerlines diagonally bisecting the normally-dense forest. Despite this, it is gorgeous. Due to the powerlines running relatively east-to-west, nature and human necessity combined to allow for a perfect sunrise or sunset strip of open grassland. This strip of prairie separates the woods into the massive southern part and a small, northern triangle left before being stopped by University Blvd. and Raider Rd. I had never been in this section before, and it has only one, tiny trail that is unusable on one exit due to overgrowth of grass. I will call this section “The Triangle”. Despite its ill-repair, it has some beautiful trees! I spotted the lemon-like Ohio buckeye tree with some amorphous, yellow fruit hanging on the southside of the Triangle, and tulip trees with wide and vibrant leaves.
After exploring the Triangle, I waded through the various tall grasses of the Prairie, probably about 100-150 feet across. I found Wild Bergamot, Cutleaf Teasel, Wingstem, Pale Indian Plantain, Mock Strawberry, American Sycamore, Black Locust, Canada Wild Rye, and Bristly Greenbrier. Smartly-planned but rarely-mowed trails weave throughout the Prairie, and they allow curious walkers to see the insides of the impenetrably-high grasses. Though the Prarie does not provide massive trees and gorgeous streams, it is traversable for much longer in the day, as the forest gets dark early. Beautiful sunsets are showing nightly from a little hill on the western edge. It is fascinating to think of the combination of humans and nature that created something not better than unmarred nature’s woods, but different. The biodiversity of a grassier section is refreshing, and provides opportunities for bunnies to hide and bees to pollenate flowers. I am so glad to have deeply explored a part of the woods I had never seen in-depth, and connect more puzzle pieces in my mind of the gorgeous and capacious campus woods.
- Alex Tischer
Late Aug. 2022
The North woods are my bread and butter. Living in the Village Apartments on campus, my apartment is less than 150 feet from the wood’s edge. The North woods are situated right next to the “Woods” dorms as well, so I notice more students roaming the north section than the south. The North woods are a segment of 75 acres, most of it abandoned in the 1930s. The southern half of the North woods is mostly old growth forest, providing a nice contrast of dense and wide open areas. There is actually a trail that runs along the separation between old and newer growth forest, presumably a path before the abandonment of the northern area of the North woods. A small but picturesque stream works its way through the NW part of these woods, entering the woods from underneath College Park Drive, a massive parking lot. This parking lot is what accounts for the bright red and yellow sign that stands next to some parts of the stream warning against bathing or drinking the stream. Runoff from the parking lot makes it toxic, and it has been a problem for years. I will dive deeper into human-related problems in the woods in a later post, but as of late August 2022, the signs are currently not up.
The stream becomes completely dry for parts of the summer, allowing me to walk where I normally cannot, exploring and identifying the flora and fauna that I see. This morning, as I waded through the waterless creek, I was greeted with a blue jay crying above my head and a katydid wasp gathering nest materials from the uncommonly dry stream mud. Despite the absence of water, the invasive Amur Honeysuckle is still quite literally everywhere. New and small Black Locust plants are springing up on either side, and American Sycamore likes to form an arch over the stream. Canadian Wild Ginger lurks in the shady section of the stream, and Christmas Fern hangs onto the eroded sides of the stream bank that once kissed water right beneath. Other interesting plants found in or around the bed of the stream were Flat-topped Goldenrod, American Jumpseed, Virginia Creeper, and Border Privet.
As I make my way from the stream up to the old and new growth forest bisecting trail, I inevitably see the elusive white-tailed deer sitting and lounging in the morning sun on the old growth side. There is only one place I have seen the sitting and lounging of deer in the North woods, and it is interestingly only in the old growth forest. Over and over again, I see them there with their big ears cocked but their bodies still gracefully seated behind some covering bushes. Perhaps the deer instinctually feel closer to the older woods, as they have been untouched by humans for much longer than the new growth section.
In the last year and a half, there has been the unfortunate addition of disc golf stands and platforms throughout a small N to NW section of the North woods. Supposedly this is allowed by land use agreements, but some of the additions were wholly unnecessary and brutal to the innocent woods. I will also touch on this more in a more specific journal entry later, but now the sound and litter of the disc golf players is common as one strolls the gorgeous North woods.
Whenever I have a little time, I always relax in the North woods, read a book, swat away the flies, and enjoy nature. Though it has been through a lot with parking lot runoff and disc golf additions, the rolling hills of the North woods are a welcome retreat from the artificially-flattened campus and lives we live day to day.
- Alex Tischer
Entire Campus Woods!
Fall in the woods is undoubtedly the prettiest time of year. Growing up in Atlanta, I am not used to having fall. Our winter is short and sweet, with rarely any snow, and certainly no gorgeous, colorful decay of tree leaves. Freshman year, I was taken aback by the sudden colorful assault by tree leaves as September and October rolled around. This year, due to a drier season and climate change, the leaf change is earlier than normal. While there were inklings of fall as September rolled to October, the real signal of fall is undoubtedly now the turning of the sugar maple. Massive, recognizable shapes, the sugar maples make some of the most spectacular fall colors in yellows, bright orange, and red. As one walks through and around the edge of the woods, the sugar maples are the most obvious sign of fall. Another notorious fall tree in the woods is the eponymous red maple. Red maple has been planted around campus as an ornate fall tree as well, and it goes a dark red as autumn arrives, giving a nice contrast to the more vibrant orange and yellows of the sugar maples.
A beautiful sign that one is in wilderness is that there are no buildup of leaves like there is paved areas. Within 20 feet of the campus woods, the fallen leaves begin to be pushed to the side of the road to allow for cars to traverse. In the woods, the leaves naturally and randomly fall all over the place, with no worry of a leaf blower or lawnmower there to murder it. Thoreau’s famous Walden quote by Thoreau proves this point beautifully: “A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper.”
Despite the beauty in the campus woods, there is a dichotomy in the middle of the orange splendor of fall, and it is in the existence of the sugar maples. Though they show perhaps the greatest colors in the fall, the countless sugar maples in the Wright State Campus Woods are a sign of the forest make-up changing. As natural forest fires are now nearly impossible in our small section of woods, there are now no longer any suddenly open areas of light for oaks to grow. Red and white oaks were the alpha tree in these woods for hundreds of years. Now, the maples are stealing the top spot, as oaks can no longer become full-grown trees with the limited light coming through the overstory. Sugar maples do not need nearly as much light to grow, and they have quickly taken over the woods. While they are not invasive or necessarily a bad sign, they are just the sign of changing woods. As one walks around the campus in general, you will notice that many of the trees that were not chopped down in building WSU’s structures are red or white oaks. They now strive in isolation on campus, allowed to grow infinitely, but their seeds are not allowed to grow near them or at all. They tend to turn a red or brown color in the fall, though their vibrancy holds no match to the sugar or red maple. It is then ironic that the loss of oak supremacy is resulting in a more vibrant fall.
As fall progresses, it will become prettier yet sadder. There is a naivete in early fall, as the leaves are not yet fully in bloom. There is a strong note of sadness as the leaves reach full splendor, as one then knows that it is all soon to fade. Gray and brown days are ahead, but I’m immensely happy for this short, reflective stage of yellow, orange, and red.
- Alex Tischer
This time of year, in late fall, only one type of species is left standing, holding out with green leaves as the sugar maples wither and fall into an orange-brown carpet on the ground. The holdouts are the invasive species. While all other native species abandon their leaves, the invasive species can last weeks longer, presumably due to their lack of natural predators. A sharp divide therefore forms in late autumn. An eight foot wall of green clings to the ground, and anything above is left withering.
There are three invasive species in the woods that are the most prevalent: Amur Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, and Garlic Mustard. Undoubtedly, the honeysuckle is the champion invasive species of the Campus Woods. Whenever anyone drives along the roads next to the woods, honeysuckle completely lines the edge of the entire North woods, and much of the South. It sprouts sweet honeysuckle in the spring, gorgeous red berries in the fall, but it does not belong here. Woods maintainers have tried to cut back some spots of the honeysuckle as it reaches deeper into the forest, but they have given up on completely removing it.
The invasive species here thrive in new growth, as there is more light to feed it in the smaller, thinner forest of recent years. There is more hope in the old growth forest of the South woods, as it is much harder for the bushy plants to penetrate the darker, older trees.
It is quite fascinating to walk through the woods and realize that the original white settlers and previous indigenous tribes would not have seen any of these foreign bushes when they walked through the woods.
Their fall would have been short and unified. Nowadays, we get a second wave of fall as the invasive species finally give up and wither yellow. Globalization has caused these species to come to these woods, and spreading awareness of their existence, prevalence, and danger in our woods is key. As the invasive species now whither, fall is truly beginning to end.
- Alex Tischer