The Sehome Hill Arboretum
Western Washington University has one luxury that most other universities do not, it has a network of wooded hiking/biking trails to explore within close walking distance. This is pretty unusual for a school that is also in walking distance of a large city like Bellingham. This is one of the things that makes Western the desired destination of thousands of graduating high school seniors and transfer students every year. These hiking trails belong to The Sehome Hill Arboretum, or as it is more often called by students The Arb. It has a larger effect than simply being for hiking though, it gives the entire campus here at western an outdoors pacific northwest feel.
The Arb is a large forested area that runs the entire length of the WWU campus on the hill that rises up on its east side. www.wwu.edu/share/history Gives us a timeline of how the arb came to be what it is today. It has its origins in the coal mining industry of the 1850s, and there is still a network of tunnels that runs under it to this day. Later on in 1891 much of the land was donated to the two cities of New Whatcom and Fairhaven at which time many of the city leaders supported the idea of turning the land into a park. For this reason logging was stopped in 1904 and the trees that remain there to this day started to grow again. Shortly after, the land was purchased by the College who has worked together with the city and various volunteer groups to maintain it. In the 1960s the prospect of logging Sehome hill was once again brought up and the W.W.U. board of trustees voted to turn the park into an arboretum so that it would be protected from destruction from that day forward.
The mission statement for the Arb is “The Sehome Hill Arboretum is conceived of as a natural area devoted to educational, aesthetic, recreational and research purposes; and all development shall be compatible with this ecological concept.” I think that it fulfills the goals set forth in this statement very well. Sehome hill connects Western with the nature around it, there are very few places that it’s tall trees are not visible from campus, this gives a sense that you are never too far from nature. On the other hand once you enter The Arb, after you have walked a couple hundred feet the campus is almost completely out of view. This produces a very immersive feeling as though you are in the deep woods somewhere far away from school, this can be a very reassuring feeling if you are stressed out from finals or just day to day homework.
Collegereviews.org wrote an artical on the best 50 university arboritums in the country and their evaluating system was based on five things, size of arboritum, Size of collection, how long it has been established, oportunities for college students, and connection with the community. Considering these traits gives a good account of Sehome Hill. It has been a park for over 100 years and covers 100 acres of land. It also preserves a larger collection of trees and plants than any other public university in the state of washington. Additionally there are programs available through W.W.U classes so that students can volunteer to help maintain and keep the arb healthy. The geology department also routinely explores it because it gives so many clues as to the geologic development of Bellingham and and the area surrounding it. Many people not associated with the college in any way can be found in the arb too. If you take a walk up there on any given day you will see a wide variety of people such as health enthusiasts, bird watchers, dog walkers, and mountain bikers.
For all of the positive aspects of the arb it is not to say that it is not without its problems, the two biggest of which are people straying from the trails, and invasive species. Walking off of the path, and through the bushes and brush destroys plant life that gets trampled under foot. This is a large problem in the arb because going off the path is often a faster way to reach your destination, rather than sticking to the established walkway. Invasive species are such a big issue because once they start to grow in a place they are very difficult to be rid of. The U.S. Forest Service Identifies the top three Invasive plant species in the Pacific northwest as Diffuse knapweed, Scotch broom, and Himalayan blackberry, all of which can be found in the arb very abundantly. These problems I have put forth are definitely important issues that take away from the quality of the arb, but I believe that they are greatly dwarfed when looking at the arb as a whole and how much it adds to the community.
The David Suzuki foundation, which is dedicated to finding ways to better coexist with nature, published an article on the benefits of learning outdoors and one statement made by Rob Ridley, field centre coordinator with Ontario’s Peel District School Board, said “Going outside takes away the boundaries of your classroom walls,” he says. “It opens you up to new ideas and lesson plans. You’ll step outside to study science or social studies, and suddenly you’ll see ways to connect it to math or language arts.” I Believe that this is true, and the arb exemplifies it. Having nature around you has a positive impact on many aspects of your life. The Sehome hill Arboretum has been a part of W.W.U. since it began and I think it is a very memorable part of the university that should stay here forever. My boss Dave who graduated from here way back in 1976 remembers hiking through the arb and exploring the different trails at night with all of his friends from the dorms. I think that many current and future Western students will will have similar positive memories when they look back on their time here 40 years after graduating.
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“7 Invasive Species in the Pacific Northwest.” The Clymb. N.p., 24 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 June 2016.