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Holyoke

Andy James

 

The Organization

Holyoke Community College Foundation, Inc, a 501(c)3 non-profit.

The Foundation is focused on: Wildlife habitat creation - Aesthetic improvements - Cleanup / remediation - Accessibility - Pollution reduction - Native species promotion - Research and species inventories - Other good stuff

The Mission

"The Foundation, which is fiscally and legally separate from the College, exists for the sole purpose of providing support for programs and activities that enhance the quality of education and expand the educational opportunities for potential and enrolled students at Holyoke Community College (HCC). Foundation activities and resources are managed by a Board of Directors comprised of business and civic leaders who are residents of the Connecticut River Valley. Board members, who serve without compensation, bring to the HCC Foundation a community perspective and high level of management and leadership skills. These individuals have a strong interest in the College and the region. They are committed to using their talents, energy and influence to generate regional support for the College and Holyoke Community College Foundation.

The Foundation supports programs and activities which are in keeping with the mission of Holyoke Community College. The Foundation's objectives include, but are not limited to, the following activities and projects:

  • Enhancing community awareness of Holyoke Community College and encouraging participation in the educational cultural and community activities sponsored by the College.
  • Acquiring state-of-the-art equipment for instructional purposes in order to ensure that curricula and instruction remain contemporary.
  • Securing funds from private sources in order to provide scholarships as well as other types of special services needed by students which cannot be funded by public monies.
  • Providing initial funding for development of innovative programs and services which will enhance the quality of education.
  • Recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of the faculty, staff and students.
  • Providing a perpetual trusteeship for capital funds donated by individuals and organizations to support specific programs and activities which benefit the College and the community it serves.
  • Raising funds to support special projects consistent with the College's mission which cannot be funded by public monies."

The Project

"The Holyoke Community College (HCC) natural refuge comprises some 40 acres to the west of the main campus buildings left wild so that nature may flourish without the often disturbing influence of human activities. As a study area, it beckons examination and interpretation so that patters of nature and biodiversity, which so often elude us in our daily lives. It is a place to walk quietly on trails; to observe and grow more familiar with wildlife; to enjoy the solitude it offers; and, to become more aware of the habitats where life abounds. The refuge is part of a varied living area reflecting the Connecticut River Valley and the Mount Holyoke/Mount Tom Range. From rock-bound, dry uplands where scant soil and punishing environments make life a hardscrabble existence, to quiet, life-giving vernal pools, to streams braided and lazy or gurgling with riffle waters, to eco tones where living community boundaries change and shift, a panorama of nature’s beauty is found. Further acquisition of land by the HCC Foundation, Inc. to the south of campus had enlarged the forested area and now includes a more varied landscape as well as two vernal pools. Additionally, the area on the west side of the HCC campus is now further delineated as a natural refuge and student study area with an extended and clearly marked nature trail. It promises to be a convenient and valuable resource for faculty and students in which to conduct inquiry-based laboratories and projects designed to reinforce how the science process really works. The refuge has an elevation of around 400 feet above sea level as compared to approximately 950 feet on the heights of the Mount Holyoke Range, so there are many native animals and plants which are common both here and on those higher elevations. Familiar creatures such as raccoons, rabbits, field mice, porcupine, deer, and even bear, as well as, common and unusual species of birds, insects, and plants are thriving in special habitats. All interact to make a living here.

Developed in 1975, it has become evident that the Holyoke Community College Natural Refuge, Vernal Pond, and Trail System, is in need of repair and renovation. As well as a college and community natural resource, the area is home to an increasing number of endangered and/or protected animals such as the black racer, marbled salamander, eastern rat snake, and timber rattlesnake. Additionally, as part of the letter of intent for the development of a new campus access road, there is a requirement that four of the vernal pools must be monitored a minimum of twice a year, for at least three years, to ensure that the waterways are not negatively affected by the construction. To comply with this state mandate, five to six HCC students currently work together to monitor water levels and water quality without disturbing the loop-protected bodies of water. Together with this task, the area is a primary resource for other college studies. The botany and animal science students conduct live data collection and inventory of moles, chipmunks, snakes, amphibians, etc. and the natural history classes study a variety of tree species. Alongside the students, college staff, faculty, and community members stroll through the area to bird watch and site local wildlife. 

Funding will be used to upgrade existing (as well as add new) informational kiosks. These labeled, informational and educational stations will be in color and sealed to protect them from the outside elements (see attached sample). Laminated four x four cards will be placed throughout the refuge identifying the type of vegetation and animal life that is prominent in the area in which you are standing. The bridge that is over the refuge brook will be reconstructed, and signs will be placed in that area as well explaining the importance of brooks, vernal pools, etc. in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Along with marking the trails, new maps will be designed and made publically available. Students who are (or intend to enroll) in Geographical Information Courses (GIS) will utilize global positioning receivers to predict the mapping system and a web component will be linked to the maps. Cameras will be installed to videotape the active life that is often “hidden” when a human presence is felt and students will work as filmmakers to ready the information for placement on the web page component. Through interdisciplinary collaboration and partnering activities as described above, the Holyoke Community College Natural Refuge, Vernal Pond, and Trail System will be ready to support the campus and outside community as visitors begin to form a connection to the abounding natural resources found in the Connecticut River Valley; promoting the development and strengthening of their knowledge and desire in regards to the critical and immediate need to take a proactive stance on environmental stewardship.

The rationale for expanding the HCC trail system and designating it a natural refuge and student study area includes the following: to improve the trail for current uses and to permit more opportunities for broader student learning and training in bioscience and environmental/natural resource studies; to provide additional passive recreation areas for HCC students and community users; to add unbroken environmental space and protection for wildlife habitats; and, to fulfill a science teaching improvement objective described in the college long-range plan.

Why a Natural Refuge? Ecologists and others who value our environment are disturbed about the loss of wildlife habitat in the Connecticut River Valley to human domestic and commercial development. Of particular concern is the fragmentation of landscapes so that communities of plants and animals find themselves virtually marooned on small islands of territory cut off from others by roads, interstate highways, and sprawling residential developments. This may lead to a reduction of wildlife corridors and elimination of species with special breeding or space needs even when total space left wild is retained. Truly protected wildlife habitat is quite scattered in the Commonwealth and some of the rarest natural communities are facing degradation or destruction with concurrent decline and possible extinction of rare species native to Massachusetts. HCC is located in the southern part of the Connecticut River Valley, an area that has been slowly losing much agricultural land to increasingly rapid development. It has been estimated that nearly 80% of the state’s endangered species are found in this immediate geographic area; leading to a wake-up call for better land use planning and the retention of natural habitats of sufficient size for wildlife success. More critically, since the HCC Refuge abuts Holyoke Water Department land to the west, protection of this space not only enhances the forest area and wildlife, but also anchors part of the fresh water drainage pattern leading to the McLean reservoir. 

Furthermore, the expanded and more versatile natural refuge and trail system with its environmental identifiers and specified outdoor learning areas would provide yet another teaching tool for staff, so that future generations will better understand the urgency of protecting valuable natural resource areas and water supplies. The physical proximity of the HCC refuge to the greater campus is nearly ideal. Few colleges have a wildlife facility right on their doorsteps and must make arrangements for special scheduling and vehicular transportation of students and equipment to distant sites. Over the past decade there has been an on-going shift in the way science, especially bioscience, is taught. There has been less emphasis placed on team or cooperative group learning which is problem-oriented and inquiry-based. In contrast, current research has shown that when students use a scientific method to frame hypotheses and then test them; and, when teachers act more as mentors and coaches than as distributors of information, students are able to devise experiments and take ownership of the data gathered as well as their own learning. Students who are taught “what to think, but not how to think” with a database of connected facts and the ability to test a body of knowledge, are better able to comprehend probability. A structured inquiry for science learning allows students the freedom to explore and learn on their own and to engage in activities that build motivation and a better reflection of genuine scientific inquiry. The inquire approach is a more effective and lasting way to enhance the learning process. When students design and carry out investigations they begin to: develop a clear sense of what it means to do science and to understand the process of hypothesizing, experimenting, and revising hypotheses; realize that science is a way of satisfying one’s curiosity of how the world works and not just knowing about what others have discovered; understand why data and quantitative analyses are important and develop abilities to think intelligently using quantitative logic; improve oral and written communication skills; and, see broader social, historical and intellectual contents of science and to view it as part of their own lives. Student inquiry on the HCC Nature Refuge is very comprehensive and includes:

  • Recording and monitoring wildlife – to develop accurate records of Mount Holyoke Range wildlife, particularly mammalian predators, which may indicate overall health of the wildlife community. The project also fosters student and community participation in long-term stewardship of wildlife habitats.
  • Seasonal abundance of insects and other arthropods in swift and slow stream environments. “Sack sampling” by means of measuring stream fauna living on and in natural organic debris in submerged porous sacks of given size which may be removed and analyzed at given intervals, allowing for both qualitative and quantitative estimates.
  • Microhabitat comparative analysis of fauna living in (and recycling) different tree species at given decay stages with analysis by micro-quadrat and Berlese funnel extraction techniques.
  • Relative densities of blood-sucking ticks in selected microhabitats. Techniques employed include small mammal trapping and release, CO2 traps, and the tick drag.
  • Relative densities of selected adult mosquito species. Techniques employed include net sweeping DO traps, U-V light traps, and landing and biting counts. 
  • Resource inventory of woody plants located within the refuge. Techniques include GIS mapping, quadrat, and transect analysis.
  • Subterranean micro-fauna analysis – qualitative and quantitative. Techniques include sticky traps, pitfall traps, duff, and soil analysis by Berlese funnel.
  • Seasonal abundance of native bird species. Techniques include visual sightings, mist netting, feeder visits, and others.
  • Capture-mark-release-recapture studies on the resident vole and small animal populations of the forest/field ecotone using Havahart traps.
  • Success in plant re-population of fire-damaged area by seed dispersal and vegetative growth.
  • Biological composition of a vernal pool. Various techniques which preserve the integrity of the pool are employed. This is a broad, information gathering project with a number of more specific investigations by individual students. The end result will add to the knowledge of this important microhabitat and be of significant ecological value.
  • Flora and fauna associated with natural plat container microhabitats such as, tree-holes, pitcher plants, and other structures holding small amounts of water necessary for life forms to complete their living cycles. 
  • Vernal pool studies. Another, albeit larger, microhabitat is the vernal (spring) pool ecosystem found throughout fir and hardwood forests in northeastern U.S. This microenvironment has discreet limits in size, but is more complicated faunistically, and has not been thoroughly investigated as to what denizens may be found there. A census or more extensive ecological study of these pools would seem a worthwhile and educationally sound effort for faculty and students as several vernal pools lie adjacent to the HCC trail system. 
  • The Connecticut River Valley is very old with an interesting history through its millions of years of formation and its abundant resources of soil, water, plants, and animals. The basic structure of the present valley originated between 200-225 million years ago and active volcanoes poured sheets of lava across the valley which became hard, igneous rock commonly called basalt or trap rock. Basalt outcrops are common along parts of the HCC campus perimeter road and in the refuge itself. The HCC Refuge is home to a myriad of plants, animals, and bodies of water that are critical to the complicated and intertwining ecosystem.
  • Plant life in the refuge is varied and is oak-hickory transition typical of the wilderness and mountain land of Holyoke. The entire refuge area is a dry, upland environment, but where a bit of moisture remains, red maple, shadbush, dogwood, winterberry, and other woody species are scantily present. Near the small streams and pools, skunk cabbage, trilliums, marsh marigold, and ferns abide. In formerly cleared areas, white pine, red maple, pasture juniper, and apple trees gone wild are found. All of the native or indigenous plants have adapted over many generations to the particular environment and have developed a vibrant and well-knit community which provides numerous habitats and microhabitats exhibiting a healthy biodiversity. 
  • Animal species abound in this varied landscape. With a number of habitats and niches to fill, considerable diversity exists, ranging from familiar creatures such as fox, possum, raccoon, shrews, deer mice, voles, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits to less common deer, coyotes, and bear. Avian species are abundant and include the common crow and robin, mockingbirds, juncos, sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, brown creepers, nuthatches, finches, kinglets, catbirds, titmice, bluejays, cowbirds, and others, including the musical wood thrush. The Connecticut River Valley is an important flyway for migratory birds. Often times in spring and fall, large flocks of non-residential birds drop in to forage and temporarily perch in the woods. Raptors, such as the red-tail hawk, patrol the summer skies and wild turkeys have been spotted year-round. 
  • Amphibians and reptiles are represented by wood and leopard frogs, toads, red eft, the spotted and other salamanders and black racer snakes. Vernal pools fed by snow melt waters and spring rains are scattered, but extremely important as breeding grounds for amphibians and small arthropods and are now protected from human interference and abuse by Massachusetts law. Amphibians in particular, may be at a crisis juncture in their very survival with frogs and salamander populations in steep decline. Unfortunately, amphibian biodiversity is rapidly deteriorating in many areas, much of it due to thoughtless human activity.
  • The forest and shrub vegetation is open game as food for many insects, including a score of moths and butterflies. A whole network of crypto-fauna are often heard, but rarely seen, including ants, beetles, aphids, flies, cicadas, bees and wasps, katydids, walking sticks, mosquitos, and predatory or parasitic arachnid spiders, ticks, and mites. In the forest floor duff and humus layers and below exists a teeming world of springtails, mites, millipedes, centipedes and segmented worms, all of which, with vast groups of fungi and bacteria, perform vital nutrient and organic recycling functions. 

In more recent times, the Connecticut River Valley has been a dominant feature of our valley, serving us well with rich topsoil and life-giving moisture for agricultural crops, power for industry, and a waterway for food, transportation, and recreation. Until very recently, life has been relatively harmonious with the forests, the river, and the animals. But, over the last 125 years, human activities have destroyed and overwhelmed the natural habitats with imprudent, sprawling development, wetlands destruction, and river dams which have interfered with the natural flooding cycles for lowland renewal, point and non-point pollution, dumping of poisons and overall resource abuse. 

Today we are much more aware of the great treasure this valley has and know that steps must be taken to provide protection. Vigilance will be required to assure that these abuses are not repeated or new ones inflicted so that the treasure we know realize will remain through the ages. The HCC Nature Refuge is a small step in continuing the gift to those who will follow."

Key Project Milestones

"A thoroughly cooperative venture, the refuge establishment and renovated trail represents some 400+ hours over a two-year period of planning, design, and construction. In addition to the Holyoke Community College community, project collaborators included: the School of Landscape Architecture, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA; the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management, Mount Tom, MA; the Northfield Mountain Environmental & Recreation Center, Northfield, MA; and, the Holyoke Conservation Commission, Holyoke, MA. Shortly after the new HCC campus was built and occupied in 1974, the potential for the west campus area of 40 wooded acres to serve educational and recreational purposes was realized.

  • In 1975, a group of HCC students cut a rough trail through the area and developed a trail guide.
  • In 1982, an HCC, professor led class updated and expanded the initial trail; including siting tow plank bridges across a small stream at the rear of the property. The following year, HCC Honors students and student volunteers revamped the trail and developed an improved trail guide and map.
  • In Spring, 2001, a major expansion of the trail occurred and the whole area was designated as a natural refuge. In collaboration with the UMass/Amherst School of Landscape Architecture mapped and tagged new trail sections; surveyed the refuge; selected points of interest; and, sited outdoor student research areas, including a rustic “outdoor classroom.”
  • In Summer/Fall 2001, HCC students completing a biology class assignment in community service, cut the tagged trail; prepared trail tread; constructed and erected trail self-guide information markers; and, applied paint blazes to guide hikers. Personnel at the Mount Tom State Reservation prepared lettered trail signs which were then stained and painted. A college carpenter made entrance area sign frames, trail guide boxes, and a six-foot wide information kiosk; a college landscaper worked with a maintenance foreman, assisting in advising on bridge and trail locations, clearing trails, and moving rock.
  • With about 75% of the planned work completed, the trail and refuge was formally opened on May 21, 2002. The Holyoke Conservation Commission approved construction of two footbridges across Refuge Brook on October 10, 2002 and actual bridge construction took place in Fall 2002 and Spring 2003 along with some remaining tasks. Since that time, many persons, both HCC students and staff as well as groups form outside the college community have used the trail."

Rough Budget for This Project

$5,000: Supplies (construction/purchase of informational kiosks, laminated informational station cards and signs, bridge construction materials, outside video cameras).