Published: Jan. 14, 2019

Honoring past helps preserve campus beauty

Contact(s): Maddie Curley University Communications office: 517-355-4082

Since opening its doors in 1855, MSU has taken special care of the land it was granted to “provide a practical education for all citizens regardless of social class.”

Today, working at MSU means working on one of the biggest, greenest campuses in the nation. Caring for MSU’s 5,200-acre campus takes the combined effort of thousands of Spartans working together to preserve its beauty and functionality for future generations.

John Hannah, one of MSU’s most influential presidents, describes the tradition of caring for campus in a letter to the deans, directors, department chairs and administrators dated July 12, 1968.

“One of the oldest traditions of MSU has been the careful maintenance of its beautiful parklike campus of spacious lawn areas, trees and shrubs,” he wrote.

“As an institution it has prided itself in preserving the natural beauty of the oak grove area in which the first three buildings were erected and in the natural restful spacious setting of all later buildings. This resulting environment has seemed to our present Board of Trustees worthy of extending and protecting in the years ahead.”

Hannah’s letter goes on to discuss a zoning ordinance unanimously approved by the board that would regulate the use and development parameters of buildings on campus for the purpose of “preserving the campus environment spaciousness and landscape beauty.”

Today, campus planners such as Steve Troost are helping further the legacy of planning at MSU and preserving the integrity of campus by following the guidelines laid out in the Campus Land Use Master Plan.

A flexible framework for guiding the physical organization of MSU’s campus, the Master Plan includes “overarching campus planning principles, specific system recommendations and the University Zoning Ordinance.” It’s updated every five years to ensure campus land is used appropriately and continues supporting the university’s programmatic needs.

“Keeping campus beautiful is a team effort,” Troost said. “People I work with are very passionate about the university and the campus. It’s nice to work with folks who know MSU and can work together to ensure campus is developed in a smart way to support its teaching, research and outreach mission.”

Troost is an MSU alumnus and has worked in campus planning at MSU since 2005.

During its June 15, 1906, meeting the Michigan State Board of Agriculture approved MAC President Jonathan Snyder’s request (as advised by Landscape Architect O.C. Simmonds) that the lands adjacent to where Beaumont Tower stands today be regarded as a sacred space, from which all buildings should forever be excluded.

This sacred space, the oak grove, is also mentioned in Hannah’s 1968 letter. This area of campus, in the center of West Circle Drive, remains one of the most historically beautiful spots on campus, covered in towering trees that have stood the test of time.

One particularly old oak between the MSU Museum and Linton Hall was damaged in a windstorm, and arborists were able to estimate its age at 375 years. This tree has been nicknamed “The Resilient Tree.”

MSU Infrastructure and Planning Facilities’ Landscape Services plays a major role in maintaining the oak grove trees and the thousands of other trees across MSU’s campus. As an arboretum, or living laboratory, every woody plant on campus is inventoried — a total of 17,642 trees, with 921 of them unique species.

Arborists on staff work year-round to maintain the 1,792 acres of trees in the main areas of campus and make decisions regarding their care.

“We consider ourselves keepers of the arboretum,” said Jerry Wahl, campus arborist and Landscape Services supervisor. “We do all we can to protect the trees.”

When asked why he loves his job, Wahl said: “If you’re going to be an arborist, MSU is a great place to work. The trees are beautiful, and it takes a lot to maintain them, but it’s an awesome job.”

Wahl studied fisheries and wildlife at MSU and worked in Landscape Services as a student employee. He worked in the private sector for several years before returning to MSU in 2005.