September 22, 2019 | 69° F

U.’s preserve gives students learning space

Photo by Yesha Chokshi |

The woods surrounding the ecological preserve on Livingston campus suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy.

The Rutgers University Ecological Preserve has served as a unique space for students and faculty on Livingston campus since 1976.

The preserve comprises 316 acres of specifically allocated land and is a part of a larger tract of more than 400 acres of undeveloped forest, according to the Ecological Preserve’s website.

The land was not transferred to the University until the 1960s, and the preserve itself was not established until 1976, said Richard Lathrop, the preserve’s faculty director.

The land initially contained a U.S. military base named “Camp Kilmer,” after the famous American writer and Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, said Lathrop, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources

Eleven thousand workers constructed the camp as a military staging area when the U.S. entered World War II. At the time, it was the largest of its kind, and remnants of the camp can still be seen at the preserve today, according to the Ecological Preserve’s website.   

The preserve contains one of the largest patches of upland forest in the area, known as Kilmer Woods. The rest of the preserve consists of forest that has grown on farm fields abandoned several decades ago.

“There are hosts of different kinds of animals there including raccoons, red foxes, coyote and deer,” Lathrop said.  

The preserve was used for the “RU Muddy” 3.5-mile run, Lathrop said. Various recreational clubs, such as the Rutgers University Outdoors Club and the Rutgers Naturalist Club, utilize the preserve and hold events there, he said.  

The Ecological Preserve also serves as a so-called natural teaching area, Lathrop said.

“The students do a lot of projects out there, and it’s a great place for hands on learning,” he said.

Lathrop’s Principles of Natural Resource Management class utilizes the Ecological Preserve’s teaching area.

Student-run operations assist with the management of the preserve, and students have participated in various ecological restoration projects, Lathrop said.

“The Student Trail Crew is involved in building trails in the preserve, planting native trees and bushes,” he said. “Last winter, we did a prescribed burn. We brought forest fire officials in, and we burned one of the meadows to try to regenerate it.”

The burn, which targeted a half-acre area in the interior of the preserve, intended to restore the ecological health and preserve the diversity of the species it houses, according to the preserve’s website.  

Lathrop said students in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences developed the plan for the burn.

Hurricane Sandy greatly damaged the surrounding woods, Lathrop said, so the preserve hosted high school students for an educational event about how geographic information and global positioning system technology could be used to support the preserve.

The students measured and recorded the types of fallen trees in the preserve and added the data to a database, Lathrop said.  

“They’re helping us collect real data that we’ll use,” said Tim Farrell, a Rutgers alumnus who helped lead the high school students, in an interview with  

One of the challenges of managing the preserve is tending to the diverse wildlife, Lathrop said.

“There are a variety of diverse groups that use the preserve so it’s a challenge to balance those interests,” he said.

The preserve also deals with vandalism.

“We put up trail signs that will be destroyed, and we have to build them again,” Lathrop said. “There have also been incidents of poaching.”  

Ali Shaikh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and past member of the Rutgers University Outdoors Club, said the preserve is a valuable resource and serves to beautify the campus as well.

 “I think the preserve helps keep the University as one of the premier institutions that produce research in the field of Ecology and Conservation,” Shaikh said.

The broader goals of the preserve are to protect the natural ecological characteristics of the area and to serve as an outdoor teaching area for the University, according to the preserve’s website.

In an address to the University in 2007, former University President Richard L. McCormick stated Rutgers’ need to determine how to incorporate the preserve more fully into the community.

“We want to explore how to integrate the Ecological Preserve more fully into the day-to-day life of the University in ways that respect its natural resources, protect its flora and fauna and truly fulfill its educational mission,” he said.

By Connie Capone

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