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East Campus Hillside

The East Campus Hillside is location 7 on the tour. The following description also appears on the Story Map.

Formerly a traditionally manicured grass area, the Hillside has been transformed into an outdoor educational ecosystem that provides students and faculty with an outdoor learning resource and demonstrates JMU's commitment to environmental stewardship. Collaboratively developed by JMU faculty, students, staff, community members, and a Visiting Scholar, the project won a silver-level Governor's Environmental Excellence Award in 2014. More than three thousand undergraduate students have engaged with the East Campus Hillside, and it is used regularly in more than 15 courses.


The five phase project now features a 1.6 acre meadow containing 29 native plant species, a two acre tree planting area home to 25 different tree species, 1000 feet of restored stream channel and associated riparian buffer, a solar array, and a food forest. 

The meadow's native plants provide wildlife habitat on campus. The replacement of traditional fescue grass by the meadow reduces the potential for pollutant runoff into the stream channel from traditional turf management practices. It also reduces the potential for erosion from the hillside meadow by establishing deep rooted vegetation. Additionally, the naturalized landscape was planted in multiple strips along the contour to provide an example of the common practice in conservation agriculture of contour farming. Scholar-In Residence Michael Singer facilitated the design of the meadow portion of the project- an idea that originated from a professor in the department of Integrated Science and Technology. Students (as part of their courses and capstone projects) worked with faculty to contribute to the overall vision and the design of the meadow.

The tree planting area contains 2 of each of the 25 tree species planted. The trees were selected based on aesthetics and screening as well as usefulness for education. Many trees are native and included overstory hardwoods, understory hardwoods, and gymnosperms. A number of species of trees not commonly found elsewhere on campus were included in this area to help promote the biodiversity of trees on campus. The Trees of James Madison University project provides a walking tour of the diversity of trees on the campus, including maps and information on each tree species.

The restored stream channel and associated riparian buffer provide valuable protection for the nearly 600 acre urbanized watershed that drains to this area. The stream restorations were funded in part by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, "Community Solutions to Stormwater Pollution in Blacks Run," awarded to a community partnership which included JMU Facilities Management. The case study describes the partnerships and outomes from the stream restoration project.

Over the summer in 2022, a 310 kW solar array was installed on the East Campus Hillside of the university and connected to King Hall. The project builds on the experience from the JMU Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy's previous 10 kW solar array. The replacement and expansion of the old system was recommended by the JMU Clean Energy Working Group and funded by JMU and the Virginia Department Energy.

The food forest, also referred to as the JMU Edible Forest Garden (EFG), is approximately 1.5 acres, with approximately .75 acres suitable for planting woody species. The EFG is planted in a trios design - alternating fruit trees and nitrogen fixers. Nitrogen fixers are plants that contribute the essential plant nutrient nitrogen to the soil, aiding other plants around them. The vast majority of the trees are dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties and will produce a variety of common fruits – from apples and apricots to lesser-known fruits like persimmons and jostaberries. Additional fruit- and nut- bearing shrubs have also been planted. Future phases will focus on planting the herbaceous and ground cover layers. Dr. Mikaela Schmitt-Harsh, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at JMU, describes designing a food forest for the JMU campus and the opportunities for students to get involved in this video.


Developing a Natural Educational Landscape on Campus Grounds, Christie-Joy B. Hartman, Wayne Teel, Amy Goodall, and Carole Nash, Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference, Baltimore, MD, March 30-31, 2015


For more information about each course below, search by course number in the Undergraduate Catalog.

GEOG 210. Physical Geography

GEOG 290. Human Interactions with the Physical Environment

GEOG 322. Agricultural Systems

GEOG 340. Biogeography

GEOG 470. Senior Seminar in Environmental Conservation, Sustainability and Development

GEOG 390-490-495. Capstones

ISAT 112. Environmental Issues in Science and Technology (General Education Course, Cluster 3)

ISAT 320. Fundamentals of Environmental Science

ISAT 424. Natural Resource Management/GEOG 342. Management and Protection of Natural Resources

ISAT 429. Sustainability: An Ecological Perspective/GEOG 429. Sustainability: An Ecological Perspective

BIO 366. Plants and Environment

Example Courses:
ISAT 320: Fundamentals of Environmental Science
Learning Objectives:
1. Identify plant species and populations
2. Execute proper field techniques for soil collection and preparation for storage and analysis
3. Articulate fundamental soil properties

GEOG 470: Geographic Science Senior Seminar, Global Biodiversity
Learning Objectives:
1. Explain the importance of expertise for identification of species
2. Describe how biodiversity of butterfly species is measured
3. Explain how expertise influences knowledge of global biodiversity
4. Develop a guide to butterflies

GEOG 390-490-495: Senior Capstone
Learning objectives:
1. Supply the university with a keyed guide for plant identification for future use
2. Create a baseline of the meadow’s development through transect survey of vegetation
3. Analyze vegetation distribution based on recommendations outlined by the Society for Ecological Restoration International Primer

Example Projects:
Compost Land Management and Soil Carbon Sequestration, Kylene Hohman, Advisor: Dr. Wayne Teel, Department of Integrated Science and Technology, ISAT Capstone Project, April 2016

The Biochar Impacts on Soil Nutrient and Carbon Content in the ISAT Meadow, Johnathan Brittell & Grant Rabalais, Advisor: Wayne Teel, Department of Integrated Science and Technology, ISAT Capstone Project, 2019. (2019 Senior Capstone Project Symposium, page 50).


2014 Silver-level Governor's Environmental Excellence Award

2023 JMU President's Purple Star Award for Academic Quality- Transcending Boundaries


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