K-State’s heritage flourishes outdoors

A squirrel holds a nut on K-State campus Sept. 14, 2017. (Photo by Maddie Domnick | Collegian Media Group)

As the first land-grant university in the U.S., Kansas State University and its groundskeepers place delicate care in the maintenance of K-State’s campus and wildlife.

Places like the Quinlan Nature Area by the Leadership Studies Building, the Meadows Project by McCain Auditorium and the K-State Gardens provide students with opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the natural world around them.

“It’s the history that’s really important about our campus,” Cathie Lavis, associate professor of horticulture and natural resources, said.

Lavis said it is important to preserve the trees and plant life on campus to truly appreciate how much plants do for humans. She also emphasized how many of the trees on campus have been a part of K-State since its founding, having been planted and maintained by previous professors and students.

“The pine tree in front of the clock tower was planted as a frozen ball in 1900,” Lavis said.

Joe Myers, landscape and ground maintenance staff member, said there are over 5,000 trees on campus.

“K-State is a Tree Campus USA university,” Myers said. “There’s been a lot of effort to protect the trees.”

Lavis said K-State has been a certified Tree Campus USA university since 2013. To maintain that certification, students must participate in an Arbor Day celebration each year and have a student learning and community engagement activity. In the past four years, K-State students have planted a total of 24 trees on campus as a part of this project.

The university’s efforts to continuously protect and preserve the trees on campus have not gone unnoticed, particularly during the construction of the Leadership Studies Building 10 years ago.

“When our design-build firm Opus learned about the bald cypress, they worked diligently to save it,” Mary Tolar, director of the Staley School of Leadership Studies, said.

Tolar said students later named the tree “Billy Ray Cypress” because Opussaved its “achy breaky heart.”

Students may also notice as they walk along campus that some trees have signs. These trees are part of a K-State tree walk that includes over 100 different species of trees.

“I like the signs for the different trees,” Katie Wurm, sophomore in chemical engineering, said. “It allows me to learn more about them when I have time.”

School for the squirrels

The K-State campus is not just an arboretum full of history; it is also a hub of activity for animals. The wildlife on campus includes many varieties of squirrels, butterflies and birds.

The squirrels in particular spark a lot of conversation from students. Whether they are friendly or not may be determined from personal encounters.

“They’re different than most squirrels, but I love them,” Sophie Hardin, sophomore in interior design, said.

The squirrels, seemingly mischievous, make many students wary.

“I have not seen a friendly squirrel,” Wurm said. “The last squirrel I saw was throwing nuts at my head.”

Butterflies are also prevalent on campus this time of year.

“A lot of our flower beds have specific plants that attract butterflies,” Myers said.

Students and faculty alike can appreciate the beauty around them.

“K-State just feels very organic and clean, and it makes you want to keep it clean,” Hardin said. “It’s beauty you don’t want to mess up.”

Mark Taussig, landscape architect for campus planning, said the landscape is more than just plants and trees, but also includes building facades, sidewalks, sculptures and much more. However, the trees and plants do play a key role in the overall landscape.

“It’s like an emerald necklace; it ties everything together,” Taussig said.