On a walk through the Bowdoin Pines, a visitor may encounter various flora and fauna, from sarsaparilla to song sparrows. One species, however, is harder to find: the Bowdoin student.
The Bowdoin Pines, located behind Cram Alumni House on Federal Street, have long been an icon of the College. According to the College's Web site, an alumni newsletter and literary society have been named for the Pines, and pine boughs adorn college paraphernalia.
But one professor, Nat Wheelwright of the biology department, thinks that the College could make better use of the land. Wheelwright says that the Pines should be more integrated into Bowdoin's curriculum, as well as into the fabric of the community.
"Everyone on campus should be using it," he said.
In 1996, Bowdoin's land stewardship committee released a report, written by Wheelwright, on incorporating the Pines into the community. According to the report, "the College has never formally integrated the Bowdoin Pines into the campus or the curriculum...The members of the Land Stewardship Committee believe that the site offers significant potential for enriching campus and curricular life at Bowdoin."
The committee proposed two phases. Phase I would include the development of a maintained, well-marked trail system, as well as an inviting, signed entrance to the Pines. The drafting of a master plan for the future of the Pines would also be part of Phase I.
In Phase II, the site would be gradually converted into an arboretum, with "attractive plantings of Maine's native species," spaces for sculpture display, and areas with benches to provide students with a place to have picnics and discussions.
Since the report from the Land Stewardship Committee, most of Phase I has been completed. The College dedicated a new trail system in the fall of 1997, after work by many students and community members, and Wheelwright has a copy of a master plan from 2003.
But no steps have been taken toward Phase II, and according to Wheelwright, after a flurry of activity in the years following the dedication of the trail system, the campus's relationship with the Pines has reverted.
"I think this was a place we were making use of, and now we're regressing," he said. "I would love to see the College follow through one day and turn it into an arboretum."
Pam Breyer, director of laboratories for biology, takes her lab classes to do field work in the Pines.
"It's a wonderful resource, especially one we can get to just by walking," she said. Her students, however, "have no idea that it's there. They're usually pleasantly surprised that there's a nice little walking trail."
Currently, a few classes in the natural sciences, and fewer in the social sciences, use the Pines. Some students use the Pines for recreation, but one professor said that before a recent field trip, he doubted that half of the students knew the Pines were there.
In an informal survey of approximately 30 students, the Orient found that while about a quarter had visited the Pines for classes, only three said that they used the Pines for recreation.
"The thought's never crossed my mind," said Ethan Wolston '09.
No reason for change
In an interview with the Orient, President Barry Mills said that he saw no reason to make any changes to the Pines.
"The way the Bowdoin Pines are today are the way they've been for years," Mills said. "I have no plans to do anything with the Pines other than what people advise."
Mills said that he is the person with the authority to make any changes to the Pines, like converting them into an arboretum, but that nobody has ever contacted him about any such plan.
He added that he would be "very interested" in hearing if people had different visions for the future of the Pines.
The Land Stewardship Committee made its recommendation in 1996, before Mills began his presidency.
Finding a middle path
Professor of Economics David Vail, who played a role in the improvement of the Pines in the late 90s, said that though more could be done with the Pines, there is currently nobody working toward change.
"Phase II never happened," Vail said. "There's more potential, but there's not the group of people or leaders to make things happen."
However, Vail said, the Pines don't necessarily need to be turned into an arboretum for them to see greater use. Small additions, like "relatively simple signage," could help attract more visitors.
At one point, according to Wheelwright, first years were given maps of the Pines in their Orientation materials, but that practice seems to have ceased.
Vail did caution that too many visitors could end up ruining the simple appeal of the Pines.
"You can love it to death," he said. "It's nice to be in a place that's quiet a few minutes walk from campus."
Wheelwright acknowledged that any future development of the Pines would require a motivated individual or group to lead the process, and that neither students nor any other part of the Bowdoin community are currently taking on this issue.
"I'm not aware of any student leadership on taking care of the Pines," he said. He added that progress could start being made "if the administration became persuaded that students like colleges with lovely natural facilities close to campus," pointing out that Cornell University and Connecticut College have arboreta.
The master plan, from 2003, suggested the formation of a Bowdoin Pines Club, made up of college community members (mainly students), but it does not appear that this club was ever formed.
Wheelwright added that academic departments could be another possible avenue for change.
"The environmental studies and biology departments would be natural leaders in persuading the administration to continue integrating the Pines into the curriculum," he said.
Plans for the future
For now, though, at the Bowdoin Pines, it's still business as usual. In an e-mail, Grounds Maintenance Manager Tim Carr said that "for most of the Pines we let it evolve naturally. We maintain the trail that is in it and remove hazards that we see."
A walk to the Pines on a sunny weekday afternoon found one of the entrances to the Pines blocked by a large snow bank, presumably from plowing of the Cram Alumni Barn's parking lot.
Visitors to the Pines had stomped a path through one side of the bank, and a trail of packed, muddy snow wound through the tall white pines. Though there were foot and pawprints in the path, no one was in sight.
Wheelwright said that there are many more opportunities for the College to use the Pines.
"I think it would be an inspiration for many classes in the arts," he said, envisioning students in creative writing classes coming to sit under "a lovely white pine."
"It's an underdeveloped jewel that could help distinguish us from many other colleges," Wheelwright said. "It has to be built into the culture of the place."