Old Growth, New Ideas: CSE's 2010 Trip Looks at Oregon
A low-footprint train trek took us from Albion to Oregon for the Center for Sustainability and the Environment (CSE, formerly Environmental Institute) annual field trip. Our group of 18 students and five faculty met with geologists, urban planners, forestry researchers and others to gain a comprehensive picture of environmental concerns and activities in the Pacific Northwest.We learned by doing-- a theme of the trip. After reading about the ecology of an old growth forest, we experienced it firsthand by hiking through HJ Andrews experimental forest and talking with researchers. After discussing the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the coast, we were turned loose to explore the tide pools and their occupants. The trip really exemplified a liberal arts education.
A highlight of the trip was the HJ Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. LTER brings together scholars in both the sciences and the humanities to paint as complete a picture as possible of forest and stream ecosystems. It was very cool to see how different kinds of minds processed and expressed the area through hard data or the arts.
Meeting with urban planners for Gresham and Portland, Oregon, we discussed problems posed by human impact on the environment. We also observed the benefits of "green areas" (sizable corridors of natural areas, wetlands, etc.) incorporated into cities. Inspired by Portland city planner Mike Houck's mantra: "In livable cities is the preservation of the Wild" - a play off of a quote by Henry David Thoreau, these green areas help to preserve wildlife populations and enrich the lives of citizens through access to the educational and aesthetic qualities of nature.
We also learned how natural processes can be used as a safe and affordable remedy for problems of storm water management and contamination. In Gresham, we looked at a terraced wetland that was constructed to filter industrial run-off from a Boeing factory.
CSE trips offer students a unique opportunity to gain knowledge first hand. Personally, the chance to talk with and question professionals is invaluable. It helps us to better define future careers, make educated decisions about graduate-level education and understand human society's impact on the natural world.
Aside from the academic benefits, CSE excursions often turn out to be quite exciting adventures - on the last two trips, we have hiked old growth forests, explored the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, and visited Mt. St. Helens. Seeing so much of the U.S. through CSE's environmental lens has truly been one of the best parts of my Albion College experience.