1996: College paved paradise and put up a parking lot

The ecological trail located behind Bliss Hall (left) was the root of controversy on campus and the subject of a Signal political cartoon back in 1996 (right). (Brianna Gunter / Managing Editor; The Signal March 5, 1996)

Tucked away in the wooded area between Bliss, Armstrong and Kendall Halls is the “Ecological Study Forest & Nature Trail.” A second part of this trail — much more overgrown and hidden than the first part —  actually extends through the forest behind Bliss. It does not appear to be of much focus for the general College community now, but in 1996, this small forest was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. For a brief few months, it was caught in a major controversy.

The parking garage next to Armstrong, otherwise known as Lot 20, was the source of the conflict. On Feb. 29, 1996 Peter Mills, vice president of Administration and Finance, and Gregory Bressler, associate vice president of Facilities Management and Planning, announced to the College’s Board of Trustees plans to construct a new parking garage between Armstrong and Bliss halls. To build this garage required the destruction of 60 square feet of the three-quarter acre forest between the academic buildings.

The first objections came from then associate professor of biology Edward Rockel, who said he was already circulating petitions to protest the construction of the garage. Rockel’s main issue was that the woods were being used by his department as a hands-on forest study area.

“I’m not a tree hugger,” he told The Signal the week following the announcement by Mills and Bressler. “There are no other nearby forests we can use. We have mainly flood plain forests. They’re mucky or have poison ivy.”

Things escalated quickly. Within the next month students passed out petitions against the parking garage, and a “Save the Forest” committee was formed. On March 13, the faculty senate joined in the fight by unanimously voting in favor of a resolution requesting a new site for the garage.

Of course, the College was in need of additional parking. Plans had already been made for the construction of what we now know as the Science Complex, which would result in the loss of a small faculty parking lot on the other side of Armstrong. Mills and Bressler responded to the protests by explaining that other locations for the garage would not suffice due to land formation, cost and overall convenience.

On Earth Day of that year (April 22), a rally consisting of both students and faculty was held. The protestors lit candles and signed another petition — this time specifically urging the Board of Trustees to vote against the garage construction during their meeting that coming Thursday. Mills himself attended the rally, but only as an observer, and he did not speak to anyone.

Almost two months after the initial construction announcement, a compromise was reached. The Board of Trustees authorized the construction of a 147-vehicle parking garage that would be built more around the forest than in it, cutting the necessary deforestation in half, to 30 square feet. It was not a complete win for the protestors, but the protest had not gone unnoticed.

This all happened 15 years ago — the garage has since been built and the study forest itself has undergone changes. It should never be forgotten, however, that you, the members of the College community, do have a voice around here. Use it loudly, and you will be heard.