Dedicated to a political science professor and environmental activist in 1969, the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve on Stony Brook University’s south campus was confronted with a legal battle, when students, faculty and the’ community petitioned to protect the 26 acres of untouched land from future development, according to the letter of appeal by the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve last April.
The university’s first president, John Toll, and former US Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, honored Dr. Ashley Schiff by naming the preserve after him. Schiff came to Stony Brook as a political science professor and environmental activist in 1965. He died of a virus in his heart in 1969 at the age of 37.
The area of land called the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve is where Professor Schiff had a tradition of walking new students each September, and was an appropriate memorial for him, according George S. Locker, class of 1971.
On Friday, October 9, 2009, there will be a 40th Anniversary celebration of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve.
According to Bowman, Stony Brook is a ‘microcosm of the world.’ The preserve teaches the value of the wilderness, and is a training ground for students.
Ashley had ‘no fear of taking on those in power to reach goals,’ Dorothy Schiff Shannon, widow of Ashley Schiff said.
Political science professor Frank Myers came to Stony Brook at the same time as Schiff. Their offices were adjacent to each other, and they became acclimated together. He said he knew Schiff very well, and described him as intense, enthusiastic, and sincere. Schiff was ‘the person’ to do what he could to better the campus environment and took the challenge personally, according to Myers.
Though deemed ‘Forever Wild’ by President Toll, there is no legal protection to stop campus development from encroaching on the preserve.
Thus, began the ‘Petition in Support of the Preservation of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve and Its Legal Designation as a ‘Forever Wild’ parcel on the Stony Brook University Campus.’
April 2009, the beginning of Earthstock, Friends of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve and the Environmental Club presented the petition to former President, Shirley Strum Kenny.
‘During my tenure at Stony Brook I have always been committed to the Ashley Schiff Preserve, and no threat against it has surfaced during the past fifteen years,’ President Kenny said. ‘I suppose that the committee worried that such a policy might not continue in the future. They informed me that they planned to bring me a petition, to preserve the area permanently, and I explained that I have no legal authority to do that, but I would be glad to sign the petition.’
The Friends of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve is a non-profit group that started to get permanent protection for the park, raise funds for student scholarships, maintenance of the park, and develop educational programs for the university and community.
‘President Kenny signed our petition during the kick off on Friday,’ Sharon Pavulaan, co-president of the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve and WISE High School Program Coordinator said. ‘She supports our efforts, and encourages us to continue with our efforts.’
The preserve has been considered an ‘Ecological Preserve Area’ and ‘University Living Treasures.’ In 2001, the University Senate passed a motion that the preserve be entitled ‘University Living Treasures.’ This motion was passed as concern arose over the lack of legal protection, according to Locker.
However, the preserve could be disturbed at any time if the university decides to use it for building expansion, the letter of appeal by the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve said. With a new president in office, whether the park will be preserved is an unanswered question.
‘Obviously I hope and assume the Preserve will continue to be respected, but I have not talked to the incoming President about it,’ Kenny said last semester.
In 1970, the preserve consisted of 28.2 acres. But, a survey conducted in 1998 revealed that the preserve lost six percent of its land with the growth of south campus. Nassau and Suffolk Hall were built within the confines of the preserve, and South Loop Road was widened. The preserve is now 26.6 acres according to the survey.
When Malcolm Bowman, professor of oceanography, came to Stony Brook University in 1971, there were 6,000 students. Now there are 26,000 students, and the campus has continued to grow. He explained the ‘great turmoil’ of constructing a new university. He said there was ‘unwise development, with no regard for natural environment.’
The park has ecological importance in that it is home to numerous endangered and vulnerable species, according to graduate students Adam Laybourn and James Mickley. They showed a power point presentation last spring at Earthstock’s ‘Honoring Dr. Ashley Schiff: The Ashley Schiff Park Preserve.’
Biology, geology, and Women in Science and Engineering use the preserve as part of their curriculum. Laybourn said that students take inventory of plant species’ diversity, and upcoming work is to be done involving birds and mammals. He said faculty and students have hopes of long-term study, and establishing protocols for future projects.
The floral diversity includes 58 species on the preserve, Mickley said, including those considered vulnerable by New York State: Trailing Arbutus, Mountain Laurel, Winterberry, and Spotted Wintergreen. The preserve is very ‘diverse for a small and recently disturbed area,’ he said.
Historically, the park is a marker for Long Island’s development by glacial advancement, creating ridges and valleys, according to Gilbert Hanson, professor of geosciences. He said Stony Brook is located on the Harbor Hill Moraine.
‘It has a huge history. I don’t know why you would want to destroy it,’ Hanson said.
The petition was available for faculty, students, alumni, and the community to sign. The goal was to get 10,000 signatures to present to the state legislators, Assemblyman Steve Engelbright and State Senator John Flanagan. Over four thousand signatures were gathered.
‘What would New York do without Central Park?’ Bowman said.’