As part of an effort to maintain and enhance the Speer Pavilion area, crews will clear a strategically specified area of trees behind the outdoor student center deck to allow for a view of the Ouachita River. The project is set to happen over spring break, if all goes as planned.
Bill Phelps, assistant to the president for I.T. services and facilities management, his team and Dr. Sells have researched the most effective and responsible way to make a clearing so that folks can see the Ouachita River, while still maintaining the integrity of the hill. They did their due diligence to make sure this plan was not only beneficial for students, faculty and visitors, but for the land as well.
“We are named after the Ouachita River, and we’re right next to the river, and you can’t see the river from the university,” said Dr. Sells, president of Ouachita. “…So it just seems to me as kind of a wonderful spot for current students, for faculty and staff, for guests, for prospective students; we’ve got this showcase view, a wonderful view, and most of the year you can’t take advantage of it.”
At first, Phelps was hesitant about the project, because he was unsure of the ramifications of cutting down the trees on the slope.
“I was concerned that if we started taking all the trees out, there’s really no rocks in the dirt, and if it ever started eroding, and you know, that edge, how close it is to the back of the bridge and the back of the student center, I was afraid we [would] get something started we might not be able to stop,” Phelps said. “I thought the idea being able to see the river was nice, [but] I just was afraid of the impact of what could happen, and so I was a little bit resistant to it.”
Dr. Sells wanted to wait to start the project as well.
“After I began this role, several people asked me about making this change. I delayed because of a desire to experience the view through all seasons, allow for some research and hear what others thought,” Dr. Sells said.
Phelps reached out to the land resource specialist for the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to get an expert opinion on what would happen if they were to cut down a few trees.
“He said, actually, cutting the trees down and [letting] them lay…and [letting] the vegetation grow over the top of them, could actually be even better than the trees growing on the side of the bank, because the low vegetation and vines would help hold the dirt even better,” Phelps said. “…so when everybody sees trees laying all over that embankment, I don’t want them to think, ‘Oh, what have they done, this looks terrible,’ and it probably isn’t going to be beautiful [for] the first year, but it is an intentional act of what we’re trying to do.”
Phelps also said that he does not want Ouachitonians to be wary of an inordinate amount of trees being cut down.
“We didn’t want people to sense that all of a sudden we’re just going to come in here and start cutting a bunch of trees down all over campus,” Phelps said. “And so this is a very intentional act, we’re selecting the trees we’re cutting down, we have a definitive start and stop point, and it’s to enhance the view and the scenery behind the student center.”
Once this project is complete, Phelps, Sells and the team will assess the overlook to see if they achieved their goal.
“We’re kinda going on the premise also, as I told Dr. Sells: you can always cut a tree down tomorrow, but you can’t stand a tree back up once you’ve cut it down,” Phelps said. “Let’s go a year, let’s see how it looks, and if everybody says, ‘Oh, we want more, we want to see more,’ then we can always cut more trees down later.”
The team already has funds ready for the project.
“We have a fund called an endowment, it’s a fund that is set up strictly to maintain the Speer Pavilion and riverfront area,” Phelps said. “So we’re going to use that money to pay to have the trees cut down, because we feel that this is part of enhancing the view and the experience of Speer Pavilion.”
By Barrett Gay, Editor-in-chief