Gabriel Sistare, editor-in-chief
Warren Wilson continues to debate how safety on campus trails and forests can be improved.
At a recent meeting, the Buildings and Grounds Committee discussed whether or not a permit system was a practical strategy. A permit system would allow the college to create a database of trail and forest users for whom Warren Wilson could account.
Dave Ellum, professor of forestry and forest manager, said that the possibility of a database would allow the campus to contact trail users and ask them to potentially join guided hikes or “adopt” certain areas of the trails for clean-up; both of these are efforts that could accommodate the off-campus community.
Even though the college is considering options such as the permit system to keep the forests and trails open to the surrounding community but hold people more accountable, some worry that the college will appear exclusive.
“It’s just going to tarnish the image of the college to the local community,” senior Clancy Harris said in reference to the possibility that trails might be closed down to make them safer. Harris spoke at the April 6 Student Caucus meeting.
Ellum said that the assumption that the college would close down the trail networks to ensure safety is incorrect. Ellum reassured that at this point, the college will not ban access to trails and forests.
Although, considering the issue of the college’s image and reputation, Ellum said that he would question an institution that espouses environmental responsibility and does not adequately protect its environmental landscape. Futhermore, Ellum said that whatever the college does to make the campus trails safer will have support from the outside community.
Is this situation unique to Warren Wilson?
Ellum noted that other colleges in the area and throughout the country have also had difficulties supervising forests and trails.
At NC State University’s Schenck Forest there are signs warning that any hikers with dogs, even if leashed, will be asked to leave. If identified a second time these individuals will be arrested.
But Ellum said that what is unique about the forest at Warren Wilson is that it is integrated into the campus. Campus trail users walk close to dorm common areas and classrooms, a fact that makes issues of safety more immediate.
Although the network of trails and forests surrounds Warren Wilson’s campus, Ellum worried that the campus community has a tendency to think of the forest as an “other;” that is, a landscape that does not have an immediate influence on the daily life of the college.
What does the college owe to the surrounding community?
To make the trails and forest safer as well as maintain open access to campus lands, the college needs to find an appropriate solution that will satisfy both needs.
Ellum believes the space should be available for the surrounding community but that there are boundaries to that access.
“We do serve a societal benefit for forest recreation,” Ellum said, “if people respect it.”
Ellum considered the opinions of the campus community, but at the end he maintained that the college’s needs are paramount.
“The forest and the Warren Wilson community need to come first,” Ellum said.