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Landfill to be transformed into environmental education park

by Richard Veilleux - December 4, 2006

An undeveloped 64-acre parcel adjacent to the former UConn landfill that once held chemicals discarded from research labs as well as debris and trash is being transformed into a peaceful learning laboratory and nature sanctuary.

Richard Miller, director of environmental policy, says that by fall 2007 the first phase in transforming the former landfill site - which has been successfully covered and closed - into a passive recreation and preservation area will be complete with trails, educational signage, boardwalks over restored wetlands, and wildlife observation areas.

Plans include public access with visitor parking, he says; and the site of the former dump will become a permit-only parking lot, with more than 600 spaces for students, faculty, and staff.

Known as the Hillside Environmental Education Park, the 64-acre swath of undeveloped land bounded by Hunting Lodge and North Hillside roads is mostly wooded; connects to Shelter Falls Park, a town-owned nature preserve; and includes a large wetlands system, with a great blue heron rookery. Miller says some funding for the project has been made available as part of the landfill remediation project budget.

Other resources, including the University's Green Campus Fund, which is administered by the UConn Foundation, are being explored to cover the costs of phases II and III of the project.

Several teams of students, led by Kristin Schwab, an associate professor of landscape architecture, developed designs for the nature park that included the trails and boardwalks, as well as observation decks and signs describing the diverse ecosystems.

Schwab's students created five landscape designs, and submitted them to the Land Use & Sustainable Development subcommittee of UConn's Environmental Policy Advisory Committee.

Aspects of each were incorporated by the committee into a single design, she says.

Ideally, although probably a decade away, Schwab envisions an indoor environmental center, located nearby on the largely undeveloped North Campus.

She says signage and an "interpretive" program could provide information on three issues: the value of open space; waste, and the ways society has learned to deal with it; and water resources and storm water management innovations.

Informational signs are also among plans being made for the triangle of land between Storrs Road and the rear of the UConn Dairy Bar.

A team of faculty and staff is developing a colorful display there that will show gardeners alternatives to invasive plants used by many Connecticut residents for landscaping to the detriment of the environment and native species.

The invasive species include Japanese Barberry, Winged Euonymus (better known as Burning Bush), and Norway Maple.

The area will feature seating, stone walls, and signs describing a wide range of non-invasive plants and discussing the damage that invasive species do to natural plants.

"We hope the public will enjoy it," says Donna Ellis, a Cooperative Extension educator.

"They can not only sit down and enjoy their ice cream, but they'll have a chance to learn how to help the environment."

Ellis says up to 150 plants will be featured.

The plants will be similar in size, height, foliage, and leaf color to many of the more popular invasives.

Miller says the Land Use & Sustainable Development subcommittee is also developing plans for a "green roof" between the Biology/Physics Building and the upper floors of the Edward V. Gant Complex.

A roof garden could replace the wide expanse of cement that currently exists, he says, and would conserve energy by keeping offices beneath the roof cooler in the summer, and further insulating against heat loss in the winter.

The gardens would also provide seating and create a cool, attractive spot where people could study, talk, or eat lunch.

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