Tension eased, help sought for College Lodge

Tensions between environmentalists and SUNY Fredonia College Lodge administrators were seemingly diffused Tuesday after it was made clear the lodge will not become a tree farm, as perceived from a recent forest management “plan” for the property.

In what could arguably be seen as an olive branch, the Faculty Student Association held an open public forum at the Williams Center regarding the future of the Brocton-based nature lodge, specifically how it can better be integrated into the main campus.

Over the past several months, environmentalists, including college professors and alumni, had been concerned with the proposed FSA plan for the lodge. That plan addressed the suitability of the property for commercial forestry applications, or tree farming. Many people felt the FSA has an obligation to continue maintaining the lodge as a nature preserve.

FSA Executive Director Darin Schulz seemingly put these worries to rest during the meeting.

“We’ve been kind of the parent that doesn’t really know what their student is doing, but we want to make sure the student does the right thing,” he said. “That plan was never intended to be put in stone, it was never intended to be verbatim, it was intended to be just another tool that we use to tend to the lodge for the next 40 years of stewardship. FSA was solely intending to ensure the long-term viability of the forest. Not to change it dramatically, not to destroy anything and certainly not to take it away.”

SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath echoed Schulz’s sentiments by saying the FSA has acted as caretaker of the property, but since its staff doesn’t include forestry experts, they have to rely on others to learn what they must do to maintain the property.

“When you ask a forester to do a report, he gives you one on what you have there that’s worth selling,” she said. “I think the question that was rightly asked about that report is, ‘Is that what we want to do?’ People in our community clearly sent the message, ‘No, that’s not what we want to do and that’s not the way we see that land.’ That’s the way a forester sees the land and we’re saying the forester gave us a valuable perspective on that land, but we do not want to turn it into a timber harvest. No one does. FSA doesn’t even want to. That is why we need to rely on each other’s expertise to come up with the best decision.”

Horvath also said several factors have already been agreed to between administrators and environmentalists. Those factors include a moratorium on any forestry action until a full biological inventory has been completed, the recognition of a substantial part of the property as a preserve and the prohibition of the use of herbicidal treatments.

Schulz also explained that while the intention of the FSA is not to make a profit on the lodge, it needs to think of ways to raise revenue to offset costs. This is due in large part to the fact that participation in the lodge has decreased in recent decades, especially from large-paying groups, like BOCES, who utilized the property.

After the air was cleared, administrators began asking the public what they would like to see happen to the college lodge, specifically in regard to easing the cost burden of maintaining it and integrating it into the main campus and the outside community. Thus began a large brainstorming session of possible ways to go forward with the property.

Many different ideas were tossed about during the session, including a wider array of programming options held at the lodge, a possible website to attract people, the use of advertising, a partnership with the Chautauqua Institution and dedicated transportation options for students on the main campus.

After the meeting, Mike Proffer, Director of Dining Services at Fredonia, said he was satisfied with everything that was accomplished.

“I think it’s a good idea to get everybody’s thoughts and get as much input as you can and get some focus,” he said. “This is a pretty eclectic group with people that have been around the lodge a long time, people who have evolved new and different perspectives, plus you have people from the community, as well. Hopefully from what we’ve learned today, things get more specified, get more direction and improve.”

Proffer said he has been involved with the college lodge for 29 years.

Horvath said she was also happy the meeting served its purpose.

“So many people care about (the lodge),” she said. “This meeting brought people in the same room and it was a chance for me to express, on behalf of the university, a commitment to this place and then to say to people, ‘What are your dreams for it?'”

Horvath also expressed a strong interest in conducting more brainstorming meetings for the lodge, particularly with the College Lodge Committee, which would take the lead on the project.

“When I said, ‘Let’s meet up at the lodge next time,’ people were nodding their heads and I think it would be great if we had more brainstorming meetings,” she said. “The committee is going to be guiding what we do with the lodge and what facilities we want there and what kind of involvement we will have.”

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