The Perkins Arboretum was established in 1946 and expanded to its current size in 1969. It was named in memory of Professor Edward Henry Perkins, the chairman of the Department of Geology from 1920-1936, and his wife, who was a member of the College staff for eighteen years. In 1969, the Board of Trustees declared that the arboretum was “to be preserved and protected in its natural state without cutting or changes in the growth and natural habitat as time proceeds.”
Contrary to the colloquialisms used on campus, the forestry behind the Alfond Senior Apartments and the Collins Observatory, known on campus as “The Upper Arb,” is not a part of the protected land that constitutes the Perkins Arboretum. The Perkins Arboretum, located in the region behind the rugby field, stretches from the granite sign off of Mayflower Hill Drive on the south side of campus to the train tracks on the overpass above Mayflower Hill Drive closer to Maine General’s Thayer Campus. Students refer to this section informally as “The Lower Arb.”
Over the College’s spring break, a large swath of the forest behind the Alfond Senior Apartments was cut down to make room for a new parking lot. On Mar. 28, the Waterville City Council approved the College’s plans for a new 330-space lot, although the deforestation began the week before while students were away for spring break. The students were not and still have not been officially notified by the College about this change in campus infrastructure.
“I saw it because I live in the senior apartments,” Ananya Pani `23 said. “We were all kind of confused as to what was happening, but then from word of mouth we figured out that they were making a new parking lot there.”
Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Moore was not notified of the deforestation until it was already underway. Moore had two research sites in the area that were destroyed.
“One of the sites out there I had been studying since 2019,” he said. “The work [from those sites] is in review right now. So… for that publication, if anything is ever asked like ‘you need to measure this’… I wouldn’t be able to address those. Also if I ever wanted to do anything in the future with it—which as ecologists, that’s what we do; we look at changes in populations in communities over time—so when it’s lost like that, you can’t do it.”
This is not the first time professors’ research and teaching sites have been lost due to changes in campus infrastructure that faculty were not consulted about. In 2020, another large swath of trees was cleared out so that the Mary Low parking lot could be moved to make room for the new Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts.
“I know that some people, including myself, knew that the decision had already been made, and essentially there was nothing that we could do,” Moore said.
Oak Professor of Biological Sciences Judy Stone lost a large portion of one of her teaching sites. Pani, who took a Woody Plants course with Stone, saw how losing that land affected the class.
“[Professor Stone] was really, really upset because we used to go there to see the trees. And she was really upset because she was saying that nobody really told her that this was happening,” Pani said.
Moore, who also lost a research site due to the Mary Low parking lot construction, was very familiar with the area as well.
“One thing that we need to do is make sure that we as educators make our field courses accessible for everybody including people that are differently abled,” he said. “So we had an accessible, rich site of trees that were cut down without any other faculty’s input as well.”
Although the sites of the two parking lots were not under the same protection as the Perkin’s Arboretum, the forests were being used extensively by the community as research and teaching sites. In addition, the proximity of trees, grassy areas, and ponds is a huge part of what used to draw peoples’ eyes to the campus. In the winter months, people enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through the forested areas, and in the summer, people enjoy taking walks and relaxing in the sun. A popular place for this used to be Johnson Pond, where students could be seen relaxing in hammocks or on the grass in the large area now taken up by dorms.
“[Deforestation] happened again with the Johnson Pond Houses,” Pani said. “It was kind of sad to see a lot of students’ favorite spots being ripped apart… I really am kind of upset that this just happens and we don’t really know ahead of time.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moore observed an increase in members of the Waterville community spending time in the arboretum and trails in other forested areas on campus.
“It was just a really nice place for people to come and share its natural beauty, and all the benefits that come with that,” he said. “I actually had an absolutely phenomenal experience last fall with Amanda Lilleston from art, and we went on a co-walk, and you know, here we are collaborating and doing the liberal arts thing. We have arts and we have sciences and we’re talking about the forest.”
The destruction of the non-protected forest regions of the College has impacts on the College community, a majority of whom are not consulted during such infrastructural changes. The forests to Environmental Scientists are like laboratories to chemists or studios to artists.
“You wouldn’t just go into an art studio and start destroying things. It shouldn’t be done like this,” Moore said.
Changes that affect faculty’s ability to produce research seem counterintuitive to the College’s goals as well.
“As an employee, I’m being evaluated on my ability to be able to produce this work… so I mean this is what I’m asked to do, like ‘we want you to do the best science and the best teaching in the world’ and I’m using the resources and I’m trying to do that and I just get cut off at the knees, and it’s devastating. And it’s by my own employer,” Moore said.
In addition to the harm done to the College’s forests, some students have expressed annoyance at the continual lack of communication between the Administration and the students.
“It’s also about increasing transparency between administration and students and the faculty as well,” Pani said. “I feel like there’s kind of this gray space right now where things are happening and we have no idea. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t happen, but it would be better for us to at least know or have some say.”
Some students, along with Pani, are planning on bringing their concerns surrounding communication and transparency to the Administration.
In addition to the College, the greater Waterville area has experienced a lot of infrastructural changes in recent years, resulting in the continuous removal of green spaces. With the expanding student body at the College, new parking lots and dorms are a necessary acquisition of the campus landscape. U.S. News’s profile of the College includes an in-depth description of all the opportunities the College’s natural areas provide for the students. A joint effort between faculty, staff, students, and administration is needed to preserve green spaces on campus while changing campus infrastructure.
~ Mahika Gupta `23