February 14, 2021

DERY | Let’s Make Cornell an Outdoorsy Winter Campus

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Between the emergence of the first snowmen in early December to the cherry blossoms of the Ithacan spring months, our campus loses much of its thrill as an outdoor wonder. Once sledding down Libe Slope grows old after the first few weeks of the spring semester, Cornellians are more than capable of spending entire winter days indoors. 

The same campus that sees its students lounging under trees and across the slope during the warmer months suddenly shrivels into a dreary, barren landscape during the depths of winter. Such a paradigm shift is in no way helped by the fact that Cornell’s athletic facilities provide little refuge from snow for students during the day. If there were to be regular weekend hours when Dodson field is plowed, or when Lynah Rink offers ice skating, perhaps students would no longer have to experience winter from their bedrooms. 

Over the last several weeks, I could only find one patch of salvageable green conducive to a game of catch: the thawed area between the northern 40-yard line and opposite 20-yard line on Schoellkopf Field. My attempts to venture onto other fields like Dodson behind Bartels Hall have been met with a locked fence. Meanwhile, campus quads have long since been covered in snow, or are otherwise soaked after a days-long thaw. Though initially intriguing to those experiencing their first snowfall, these conditions eventually deter casual outdoor activities; after all, the human body can only endure so many near-hypothermic experiences. 

Many Cornellians seeking an outdoor adventure with snow on the ground are left to venture out to ski at Greek Peak, among other off-campus parks. Meanwhile, Cornell’s very own fields, rinks and tennis courts remain idle, either covered in snow or locked to the public. During the spring and summer seasons, Cornell’s quads are filled with spikeball players and frisbee throwers. The demand is there. There’s no reason, then, that Cornellians looking to stay on-campus and student athletes alike need to share a 60-yard patch of green at Schoellkopf. 

Opening the gates to fields like Dodson is a good start. Providing basic upkeep and plowing services is even better. However, Cornell shouldn’t stop at opening a few fields. Lynah Rink, which previously offered public skating, has been closed due to the pandemic, according to the facility’s Facebook page. It seems entirely possible for Cornell to resume this offering for students in limited capacity while maintaining proper safety regulations. The fact that all Ivy sports are currently suspended, at least until the end of the month, means that the Rink — as well as other athletic facilities — are currently empty and idle for larger amounts of time. Scheduling time slots for students, then, should be more flexible now than ever.

Furthermore, the University could enact a reservation system for other campus fields and facilities it decides to open to assist with contact tracing and de-densification of public spaces. This feature would allow for Cornell to organize certain activities and designate times of day when these facilities could be used. However, beyond added convenience for students, the University itself could reap added benefit from such a protocol. A reservation system for outdoor facilities could give the University even more insight and data as it attempts to closely monitor the student body. Additionally, recreational access for non-athletes would naturally be scheduled around organized practices. Therefore, Cornell would do well to take this as an opportunity to better avoid any potential conflict between recreational and athletic usage of facilities. 

By adding additional structure to where and when students can organize outdoor activities, Cornell athletes can rest assured they will be free from disturbances during practice, while non-athletes can save themselves from taking a pointless trip to the field only to find the lacrosse team running sprints. Speaking from personal experience, it’s not fun for anyone when you juxtapose a hardly catchable, 20-yard throw by a STEM major with a deadly accurate, 50-yard heave by a Cornell football player on the other side of the hash.

Though these initiatives would not immediately draw hordes of students (it’s still cold as heck out there), better access to outdoor facilities would nonetheless foster a more active campus. This is all we can ask for in a dreary Ithaca winter, when the outdoors are too often seen as something to be avoided. When all is said and done, measures to spur more time spent together in the outdoors have the potential to improve campus-wide mental health. The move would further complement the University’s initiative to include Wellness Days in the academic calendar — and would ensure that we don’t just spend them staying indoors.

Roei Dery is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Thursday this semester.