As the blazing sun prepares to breach the horizon, the fog lifts off the serene Lake Massasoit and dew drops descend from the tall oak trees on Springfield College’s East Campus. A man patrols the property, observing all of the changes that have occurred in the past year.
On Oct. 28, 2011, the East Campus property was devastated by a heavy autumn snowstorm. The dampness of the falling snowflakes accumulated on the vast amount of trees on the land, causing over 550 trees to be affected enough to be taken down.
As Ben Taylor, director of East Campus, tours the terrain, there are monumental changes that have occurred since the day of desolation. The loss of all these trees has now left the property looking bare. Visitors often are able to see the effects of the snowstorm that left more than 700,000 homes in western Massachusetts without power.
That brisk Saturday evening was an interesting one for the citizens of Springfield and surrounding towns. Trees were still ablaze with autumn colors as snow was swirling down onto their branches. The peculiar scene turned into disaster once the weight of the snow caused the huge branches to crack and cover the ground, prohibiting people from traveling efficiently. At East Campus, the power was out, the challenge course was destroyed and the driveway was completely littered with branches from the unexpected storm.
The week following the storm, Taylor got right to work. Along with Angela Veatch, the assistant director of East Campus, the tandem started to clear points of entry on the property including the pathways and the driveway.
“We [Veatch and myself] were able to come in and work,” said Taylor. “We weren’t allowed to have students out here just because of the dangerous nature of the things that were still up in the trees.”
Come December, an initial push got the clean-up underway. Starting in the challenge course section, Veatch and Taylor walked the property and counted the trees they thought needed to be taken down and how many they thought needed to be pruned.
“What we ended up seeing was that for every tree that we saw that needed to be pruned, there were four other things in there that we couldn’t see from the ground,” said Taylor. “A lot of the trees that we thought needed to be pruned actually needed to be taken down. We only saw roughly 175, trees so we only saw about a quarter of what it actually was.”
Following this, Taylor and Veatch, along with Northern Tree Service Forester Jonathan Parrot, sat down and devised a plan of attack that would be the most efficient while also meeting their deadlines.
The team decided to write a proposal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asking to aid in the clean-up process. From here, FEMA hired a company called Ashbritt, which specializes in disaster recovery, and subcontracted the work to Northern Tree Service.
“Ashbritt subcontracted to Northern Tree Service because Northern has done work out here before, so they were familiar with the property and the terrain,”said Taylor. “They had already started to do work prior, so they knew what type of equipment would be required to get this job done, and they knew what timelines we had in order to get this wrapped up for Outdoor Pursuits.”
Ben Taylor first arrived at East Campus as a sophomore working for the maintenance crew. As a junior, he completed the training to become a challenge course facilitator. Upon graduation, Taylor headed west to work as a back country guide, leading groups into the mountains of Wyoming and Montana for two to three weeks at a time. Following this, in September 2005, Taylor returned to East Campus to serve as the assistant director.
Today, with the help of Veatch, Taylor has brought East Campus from a six-month program that ran from the spring to the fall, to a full-time Outdoor Learning Center. Camp Massasoit, a summer-long day camp for children, Outdoor Adventure and Challenge Course facilitation classes, and Outdoor Pursuits are just some of the ways that East Campus serves Springfield College and the community. Outside of Springfield College, the 82-acre ecosystem includes services to businesses, educational clients, health care providers and social agencies helping with introductory training in recreational activities and improving team effectiveness.
After several months of vigorous work, the team of Taylor, Veatch, Northern Tree Service, along with student staff members Roger John Reidy, Nick Hill and Chris Ogilve noticed that East Campus started to return to its old beautiful self.
“When we could get out there, it was just a lot of picking up small debris. There was more debris than I thought was even possible,” said Reidy. “I remember one day cleaning and picking up trash in the lowlands and picking up soda cans from 20 years ago that were just dug up from under there. It was kind of ridiculous to see.”
The team finished just in time for Outdoor Pursuits, a weeklong class for first-year students in the Physical Education, Exercise Science and Athletic Training majors. Taylor realized that it could have been one of the most disheartening times for some of the Springfield College student body.
“It was depressing to a point, because the purpose of this facility is to serve students. So when students can’t come here, we struggle with how we can still achieve our goals and meet our mission of working with students and providing opportunities for experiences in their education,” said Taylor.
Taylor now walks around the property that he trolled through almost a year ago with his head held high, knowing that if it weren’t for him and his team, the place that East Campus has in so many people’s hearts would have been lost forever.
“I’ve been working with Ben for six years now and I have never seen such a display of hardwork and passion,” said Veatch. “He gave everything he had to this place.”