Ben Parker / Sun Staff Photographer

The garden at the entrance to Mann Library, which uses sustainable soil restoration, is one of the stops on the new Sustainable Landscapes Trail.

October 16, 2018

New Sustainable Landscapes Trail Highlights Green Infrastructure on Campus

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A new trail opened on Oct. 5 that will allow students and other community members to walk by a parking lot that filters stormwater, Mann Library’s green roof and other sustainable sites.

Cornell’s new Sustainable Landscapes Trail features various sustainable landscaping projects around campus as a part of the Climate Action Plan, which is the University’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.

The trail has been in the works for nearly three years, according to Prof. Nina Bassuk, horticulture, who came up with the idea for the trail project. The project was planned and implemented by the Land Focus Team, a group of 8 to 9 graduate students and faculty within the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee.

The goal of the trail was to bring attention to sustainability projects around campus, Bassuk said.

“We decided to develop the trail to visualize the environmental benefits that are inherent in some of the landscape practices we use,” Bassuk said in an interview with The Sun.

The trail features 19 stops, marked by posts with QR codes that lead to a descriptive webpage about the individual project and how it contributes to Cornell’s sustainability goals, Bassuk explained.

According to the Sustainable Campus website, such stops include the Botanic Gardens Bioswale, which uses carefully chosen vegetation to filter stormwater while serving as a diverse ecosystem, the Mann Library green roof on which vegetation grows and a deer management site where researchers can study the impact of deer browsing on local plant diversity.

Each trail project is one more step toward the “green infrastructure” category of Cornell’s Climate Action Plan, the website notes.

“You can define sustainability in many different ways, but in terms of landscaping it’s providing healthy ecosystems,” Bassuk said, emphasizing how each stop provides a habitat for a diverse ecosystem of insects and native plants.

The latest addition to the trail is the Peterson Parking Lot near Stocking Hall, which was recently repaved with porous asphalt that absorbs and filters stormwater, preventing the runoff from polluting Beebe Lake. A ceremony marked the opening of the trail, with the committee pouring water onto the new asphalt in lieu of a ribbon cutting and an hourlong partial tour of the trail led by Bassuk.

Many of the stops featured on the trail were designed by students in Bassuk’s class in the landscape architecture and horticulture sciences departments titled “Creating the Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment.” Students enrolled in the two-semester class — which Bassuk co-teaches with Prof. Peter Trowbridge, landscape architecture — combine technical horticulture with hands-on landscaping to implement custom projects on campus.

Other stops, such as those in the Botanic Gardens, were created by facilities staff, Bassuk said. She noted that “there were several different players” who contributed to the projects featured on the trail.

According to Bassuk, the committee will continue to add stops to the trail as more projects are implemented.

“It was never expected to be a finite number,” she said.