Celebrating sustainability on East Campus

Professor Teel explaining the Hillside project

SUMMARY: Members of the JMU community recently celebrated the 5th Anniversary of the East Campus Creek Restoration on the Hillside.

By: Brett Seekford

Several years ago, different members of the JMU community, including faculty, students, facilities management employees, community members, and a visiting scholar, collaborated to create an outdoor educational landscape, known as the Hillside on East Campus. Previously primarily covered in grass, the Hillside features a native meadow as well as a tree-planting site and stream channel restoration. Now, five years since the stream’s restoration, faculty and students celebrated the learning aspect of the larger project.

On Wednesday, April 19th, over 100 members of the JMU community participated in parts of the two-hour event commemorating the “5th Anniversary Celebration of the East Campus Creek Restoration on the Hillside.”   The event was conceived of and organized by Dr. Tom Benzing, Professor, Department of Integrated Science and Technology. 

Attendees began with an informal reception where they witnessed displays highlighting the work and accomplishments from the five-year old endeavor, such as student and faculty scholarship on water quality as well as a 2014 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award (Silver Medal). Afterward, faculty and JMU Facilities Management (FM) representatives presented to an audience, which included two classes studying water sustainability where the benefits of the project were discussed. The event ended with guided walking tours of Hillside provide by faculty and FM members.

While the Hillside stream may seem insignificant next to the many other features of campus, it drains into Newman Lake and the water makes its way to Blacks Run in Purcell Park before heading on to the Chesapeake Bay. Any nutrients or sediment flowing into the stream, therefore, potentially affect bodies of water on campus and in the larger Harrisonburg community.

JMU's Hillside stream restoration project

The JMU Facilities Management, which took a leading role in seeking funding and managing the project, partnered with local agencies and nearby universities to obtain funding for a collaborative community stormwater effort through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (Read the case study.) One part of the project was the design and construction of riparian barriers along the JMU stream channel in April 2012. The University worked with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and a specialized stream restoration contractor to guide the planting of trees and placing of rocks with the aim of preventing further erosion once the stream was eventually restored.

As intended, faculty members in various science-related fields have since used East Campus Hillside to illustrate classroom concepts and show students a region offering opportunities for research in a range of subjects including botany, ecology, and water quality. As such, it has become part an integral part of JMU academics. (See the list of courses that use the facility.)

And as part of the anniversary celebration, students and outside observers were able to see firsthand the educational and environmental importance of this project to the university.

JMU's Hillside on East Campus

Seth Herbst, a junior ISAT major who attended the event, was impressed with the efforts being made across campus and gained new insights regarding conservation. “I hope to be part of green infrastructure development in the future so it was helpful to see the positive effects restoration can have downstream, like improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and the lives of those 100 miles away,” he said. “Learning more about the Hillside project made me feel proud to be a JMU student.”

With this event providing such an edifying atmosphere for students and faculty alike, organizers hope that it is held again in the years to come. It could be that it is repeated for new members of the JMU community at the ten- or twenty-year milestone. This anniversary, at the very least, certainly made clear that East Campus Hillside stands as a beacon of environmental stewardship on campus.

“I’m hoping to make it a tradition,” Benzing said in response to whether he plans to collaborate with colleagues to highlight this achievement in the future. “It was a great opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of a project that engages (and will continue to engage) JMU students, faculty, and staff in the challenges and benefits of naturalizing our landscape.”

Published: Monday, May 8, 2017

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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