The University of Connecticut’s Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) cleared hiking trails with eight students from the EcoHouse Learning Community behind C Lot last weekend as part of ongoing trail maintenance.
Trail maintenance was part of an ongoing process to reclaim the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP), a forest area located between North Hillside Road and Hunting Lodge Road, that began in the 1990’s, according to the OEP website.
The forest, now considered the HEEP area, used to consist of a landfill and chemical pits, according to the OEP website. The Landfill Project permanently capped the landfill and a parking lot, now known as C lot, was formed for commuters.
The HEEP Project included removing almost 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the site and created wetlands and vernal pools in its place, according to the website. A commitment to monitor vegetation, soil moisture and wildlife in the location until the year 2038 was included in the plans.
As part of these plans, the OEP and EcoHouse group worked to remove invasive species of plants such as autumn olive, Japanese and common rose bushes, along with plant overgrowth on the trails, Benjamin Breslau, a senior intern at the OEP, said.
“(Invasive plants) are all really good at displacing native plants and taking up space, as well as creating relatively unusable habitat for a lot of local animals,” Breslau said.
The students were joined by Chris Mason, a UConn wetland scientist and contractor of the HEEP restoration project, and Paul Ferry, an Environmental Compliance Professional at the OEP. Ferry was able to get tools from UConn Landscape Services to help out with the process, Breslau said.
“We had saws, we had loppers (and) the staff had chainsaws and weed whackers,” Breslau said.
The group plans to return to the forest in the next few weeks to continue clearing the trails and add informational signs, better trail maps and color-coordinated trail markers so that all students will be able to enjoy the area, Breslau said.
“We’re really trying to make this a much more appealing trail system, kind of like what we have in the Fenton area,” Breslau said.
The forest now includes many animals such as salamanders, painted turtles, hawks, deer and raccoons, Breslau said.
“It’s a really biodiverse area right off campus. We’re hoping to draw more attention to it so that people can use it regularly,” Breslau said.
Nicholas Hampton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.