Rumors have been swirling for a while over the intended future of SUNY Fredonia's College Lodge, but Faculty Student Association Executive Director Darin Schulz said a public forum Tuesday regarding the lodge is not intended to address them.
"It's going to be more of a panel discussion that President (Virginia) Horvath will be moderating, to talk about the lodge property, as well as some of the issues facing it and how it can be integrated more into the curriculum and what direction we're going to take moving forward with the management of the property," Schulz said.
Environmentalists, including professors from the college, have been concerned with a proposed FSA forest management plan for the lodge. That plan addresses the suitability of the property for commercial forestry applications, or tree farming. Many people, particularly alumni of the college, feel the FSA has an obligation to continue maintaining the lodge as a nature preserve.
The College Lodge in Brocton
"We don't think that converting the property into a working forest, or a managed forest where you are treating the trees like a crop, is right," SUNY Fredonia Biology Professor Jon Titus said.
"It basically becomes an agricultural regime. There's nothing wrong with that since we all use wood and paper. However, the intent of the college lodge when it was purchased by students in 1939 was for it to be a nature preserve," Titus said.
Schulz said the plan, which was created by a local arborist, is not the focus of the public forum. He also said the tree farming rumors are inaccurate and that the issue has mushroomed out, causing certain aspects to be taken in various directions.
"Obviously, there's two points of view: the conservationist view and the preservationist view, where the (former) is trying to maximize the tree diversity on the property by ensuring native trees regenerate properly, and addressing some of the beech blight in the forest. The preservationist viewpoint was more of keeping the property untouched and letting natural succession take its course. The plan mainly took on the conservationist view," he said.
"The plan was simply a recommendation," he continued. "There wasn't anything that was installed and there isn't anything that has to be stopped or modified. That's why we said on June 6 that we're putting this on hold and we're not moving forward until we have everyone's opinions and concerns accounted for and addressed over the next 12 to 18 months."
The arborist who created the plan used guidelines from the Department of Agriculture, known as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The EQIP is a voluntary program that provides assistance to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns. Those same guidelines are used by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to manage state forests.
Schulz agreed that the lodge is very important to the school, which is why a discussion on how to integrate it better with educational opportunities available on the main campus needs to be had. Every year, the college has taken a loss on the property.
"A lot of SUNY schools have sold off their properties over the last 40 to 50 years for the very reason they're difficult to maintain and very expensive," he said. "If it's not part of your core mission, it's something the schools divested away from."
However, Titus said money is not the point of the property.
"Tree farms are intended to grow trees that will bring in revenue, but that would in turn disturb the ecosystem of the area. The forests there are very high-quality and mature. They make up less than one percent of the forests in Chautauqua County that have similar age and structure. Also, the FSA is a non-profit, so it isn't expected for them to turn a profit on the lodge," he said.
The public forum is set to occur Tuesday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in Room S204 of the college's Williams Center. It is open to the public.
The 200-acre College Lodge, also known as the Herbert C. Mackie Memorial Camp, is located in Brocton about 10 miles from the main campus. The property was purchased in 1939 by SUNY Fredonia students through the Alumni Association. After 30 years, the students transferred ownership to the FSA due to the sheer difficulty of maintaining it.
According to SUNY Fredonia's website, "The lodge is used as a retreat and conference center by faculty, staff and student groups, as well as local and regional community members. The facility includes housing for 60 students, a large dining hall with a fireplace, an outdoor education center and five miles of hiking and cross country ski trails."
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