MHC ecology program walks the walk

The Project Stream boardwalk winds through the restored area.

By Keely Savoie

Mount Holyoke College’s Restoration Ecology Program has opened a new boardwalk to enable visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the woods—thanks to students in the program who have been working to restore the site’s natural beauty and function for more than three years.

The boardwalk follows a waterway that’s located just north of Upper Lake and feeds into the campus lakes system.

In 2012, Kate Ballantine, an assistant professor of environmental studies who runs the restoration ecology lab, and her students decided to restore the site to its natural function. They dubbed the effort “Project Stream.”

“Being able to undertake a project like this on campus is an exceptional opportunity for both me and my students,” said Ballantine. “It’s rare that students have the chance to apply academic knowledge to a real-world setting just steps away from the classroom.”

 

Learn how Mount Holyoke is breaking new ground through the innovative Restoration Ecology Program.

The ecological benefits of Project Stream extend well beyond the Mount Holyoke College campus. Project Stream is one of thousands of restoration projects worldwide working to turn back the clock on human-caused environmental problems. Before it was painstakingly restored, the area was choked by invasive plants, and eroded stream banks allowed water and all its excess nutrients to flow unimpeded into the nearby Upper Lake and from there, into the Connecticut River.

Now the invasive species have been removed, and the land restored so that the water can spread out and move slowly, allowing for natural filtration to occur before it flows into the lake.

The continuous monitoring of the site and new experiments designed to determine the effectiveness of different restoration methods is unusual, said program coordinator Julianne Busa.

“We’re one of few restoration ecology projects in the country that continues to collect data, which we share with our colleagues in order to improve all of these projects across the country,” Busa said. “Our students have the incredible opportunity to be developing new practices and actively shaping this growing field.”

Along the boardwalk that now gives a glimpse into the restored area, signs provide explanations of the work done and guide visitors along. A spacious seating area makes for an outdoor classroom space or a group-gathering spot.

On either side of the walk, tagged areas belie the ongoing research projects. Work on the area will continue as both a means of teaching new ecology students and as an end unto itself.

“Project Stream is an ongoing undertaking,” Ballantine said. “We will continue to experiment, gather data, and share the information with other ecologists. What we learn here has national implications for restoration ecology. And now with the boardwalk, the site also provides the community with a new place to walk, reflect, study, and enjoy.”

 
 

The Project Stream ribbon cutting ceremony on May 14, 2016 marked the opening of the campus restoration site.