In preparation of the Earthstock Festival on April 21, the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve led a guided nature walk through the campus’ Ashley Schiff Preserve on April 19.
Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve is a nonprofit organization that maintains the preserve and advocates for its permanent protection.
Strolling through the preserve is a longstanding tradition in memoriam of the late political science professor, Ashley Schiff, Ph.D.. According to the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve website, he devoted much of his time and energy to protecting the trees and natural attributes the university.
After Dr. Schiff’s unexpected passing in 1969, colleagues worked together to save the 26 acres of land between Nicolls Road and Marburger Drive. Former university President John S. Toll and former United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall dedicated the land to him in 1970.
“He’s the reason why we have trees on campus,” Michael Schrimpf, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of ecology and evolution and president of Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve, said.
Due to the recent construction of the new residence and dining halls on John S. Toll Drive, the foliage on campus continues to diminish. The construction cleared 5.5 acres of trees for both the new residence hall site and extended parking.
“Ultimately, in my opinion, whether campus development is good or bad depends on how it is balanced against its environmental costs,” Schrimpf said. “When we cut down some forest to build up the campus, maybe we can set some remaining forest aside in new preserves as a trade-off.”
Stony Brook publicized the nature walk on the Earthstock schedule; however, only two people attended. Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve offers an escape from the doldrums and busy lifestyle of college every week, but very few are informed of the school’s natural treasures.
“Attendance at the nature walks really varies. Sometimes it’s as high as five to six per week, but most weeks there are only one or two. Some weeks no one shows up,” Schrimpf said.
Helen Liu, a senior linguistics and health science double major, confused the preserve with the meager bridge that connects Kelly Quad and the Student Activities Center parking lot, when asked if she knew of the preserve’s location. “I know about it, but I never knew where it was,” Liu said.
“I was not aware of the preserve area and about Ashley Schiff,” Sang Eun Oh, a junior linguistics major and one of the attendants, said. “Thanks to the walk, it’s a great pleasure knowing what he’d done for the campus. I want to introduce that place to my friends.”
Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve is currently working on its social media presence to better inform the Stony Brook community about the preserve.
“We finally fixed our website that we made in the early ‘90s,” Schrimpf said. “Right now, we’re trying to update our Facebook more frequently and hopefully we can get people to start submitting photos of the woods.”
Schrimpf ended the walk with a story and lesson to all: “There’s a legend about Ashley Schiff. Before they paved Circle Road, people said he tied himself to the tallest conifer tree to protect its life. He won and they left it alone, but after his death, no one even realized the tree was cut down. It’s a lesson to us to make sure to stay vigilant if it’s something you want to protect.”