Cayuga CC science class conducts hands-on study to improve nature trail

Cayuga Community College students in BIO 208 Conservation of Natural Resources spent the spring semester working on a service-learning project to improve the nature trails behind the Auburn Campus.

The students researched a range of issues from preserving bird and turtle habitats to handling dog waste and trash to dredging the ponds. Their work can be found on the class blog:

Assistant Professor Sheila Myer said she wanted to give her students in the class an opportunity to be involved in a hands-on project from planning to implementation.

So, in addition to classroom lessons about conversation and managing natural resources, students took a guided tour of the trails with Professor Tom Casella, who manages the trails for the College. He talked with the students about problems with such invasive species as buckthorn, challenges with the ponds, and trail maintenance issues caused by flooding and erosion.

Professor Paul Richards led the students on a walk to teach them about bird habitat and changes to the physical environment, which are threatening the homes and prosperity of the birds.

“To do our research, we had to walk the trails multiple times,” said student Kelly Ross, who worked with classmates William Ryan and Mary Tripp on a final presentation that suggested the trail maintain a consistent width, be leveled, and landscaped with plants and flowers. “We had found a local landscaper and he gave us an estimate. After we had the plan estimated out, we then looked into the more decorative things. We had decided to fill around the path with flowers … We also figured we would get our plants from Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, to help with their program and buy local.”

Based on their research, the student team estimated the cost to implement their renovations would be approximately $31,000. Other groups created estimates on the costs of their upgrades as well.

The students also traveled to nearby Baltimore Woods in Marcellus to hear the land manager speak about how that nature center and the trails are maintained.

“We learned that preserving in small spaces like the 15 acres of land behind the college is worth it because as development encroaches, we are slowly losing these spaces for people to enjoy and wildlife to find a home,” Myers said.

The students compiled their ideas in a scientific poster format and presented them to the rest of the class, some in groups, others individually.

The project has already started to garner interest from area residents. Several people have posted suggestions about trail improvements or ideas for fund-raising, and one person has offered to donate some perennials to the project. Myers is looking for more community input on what improvements should be made to the trail via the web site blog page. She is compiling the student work and public input for grant proposals to local and national foundations.

Myers said she hopes to continue the nature trail project in the fall with her Ecology class and with other faculty who might be interested in getting their classes involved in this service-learning opportunity.