Monday, April 11, 2016

What class did the University of Maryland skip? Turns out it was Land Management 101.

**This blog is part of a sustainability series written by student members of the BSOS Sustainability Task Force. To find out more about the task force, click here.**

Written by: Alycia Roberson

What class did the University of Maryland skip? Turns out it was Land Management 101.

The Chesapeake Bay is a popular topic of discussion here in Maryland. Many factors contribute to the health of the Bay, some good and some not so good. Unfortunately our campus is a contributor of soil erosion, which filters into the Bay and makes for an unhealthy environment in the Bay.

The University of Maryland triumphs in academics, research, and many other collegiate activities; however, it misses the mark in land management.

The school boasts about how it waited to pave walking paths until it was evident where the clearest pathways for students traveling to and from classes. McKeldin Mall is the prime example for this. The sidewalks cut across the green grass to get people from point A to B quickly. Turns out, students are still looking for that most direct path.

Paper streets, desire lines, or desire trails are planning problems that occur in cities, parks, and our campus. They are the phenomenon that happens when there is a more logical and accessible path than what is already paved out as a road or sidewalk. When this happens, people tend to walk across the grass or dirt that is most convenient and fastest for them, rather than stay on the sidewalks. Paper streets can currently be found all over UMD’s campus and a few common ones are pictured below.

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“So what? Why bring this up?”

Here’s why - paper streets may be a great option when it comes to saving time and taking the less crowded path; however, they are a pressing environmental problem. These shortcuts are causing land degradation on UMD’s beautiful campus. One UMD professor has been pointing out this issue for years in his classes. On March 3rd, 2016 I meet with Dr. Keith Yearwood, a physical geographer, to discuss these paper streets and their environmental impacts. He says the school has “poor land management and there are examples all over from South Campus to past the stadium.” I went to him to get a professional opinion on paper streets. During our walk to look at different areas of land degradation, I unearthed some interesting information.

We started our tour at an old paper street between LeFrak Hall and Shoemaker. This was an area that was badly degraded. In an attempt to fix this area, Facilities covered it with new grass. It was cut and laid on top to stop the degradation. The image on the left is the area before it was covered. The image on the right is the area now. Quite a difference.

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This fix did not deter students; footprints can be seen next to the turf. Students are still walking along the unpaved path. Bicycles can be seen wheeling down the grassy slope, even though there is a paved walkway right next to it. Pictured below are a few students who almost got lost on the paper street and ran into pavement. Rest assured, they got out their compasses and found their way down that long paper street.

Paper streets caused by students are not the worst culprits of land degradation on campus. The sidewalks may be large enough for students, but UMD did not take into account the size of the vehicles that would be driving over the pavement. Throughout our walk, there was a constant: “Look here! That is a tire mark,” coming from Dr. Yearwood as we wandered down from Lefrak and headed southeast towards Route One.

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Dr. Yearwood elaborated on why there are so many tire marks along the landscape. In the three images below there is a common theme, other than the obvious tire tracks. Can you spot it?

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All three areas contain dumpsters.

Dumpsters are causing much of the degradation. Vehicles drive up onto grass to collect the trash from dumpsters. The vehicles that collect trash have large turning radii and, to compensate, the drivers have to drive over the vegetation. Good land is getting lost because of this; however, it is not entirely the driver’s fault. It is a lack of land management. The area in the first picture above is no longer benefiting anyone. Instead, it is contributing to soil erosion. At this point, that area needs to be paved to help both the environment and drivers.

It is clear now that students and other forces are drastically changing the layout of this campus. In some ways, it can be beneficial. Paper streets save students time and sometimes UMD takes notice and paves them, such as the one pictured below. However, it is evident there is a lack of land management here on campus. This can cause issues to arise. Land degradation affects the ascetics of campus, causes a loss of good soil, surfaces the roots of trees that need to be hidden, and can be costly, especially if UMD plans to continually replace the lost vegetation.

Now that you are more aware of land degradation happening on campus, maybe you will no longer “take the path less traveled” and maybe UMD will get smarter about its land management.
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