Gorge Project Update

The forestry management project in Wintergreen Gorge was undertaken to remove dead and diseased trees in the upper part of the Gorge near Ohio Hall. The intent was to remove primarily ash trees that were being attacked by invasive emerald ash borers and cherry trees infected with brown rot fungus.

The project was initially halted due to safety concerns over the felling of trees without the implementation of adequate safety measures by the contractors. Shortly thereafter, the project was canceled in response to concerns from the Behrend and Erie communities that the project was being undertaken as a timber harvest. A questionable number of healthy trees were being cut or had been marked for cutting — over and above what was thought to be necessary to open the canopy for understory growth.

Any remaining work in the Gorge will be fully completed with the following: the additional removal of an estimated seven dead trees that may pose danger due to falling limbs; grading and grooming of any sections of primary trails that were accessed as part of the project; and reseeding of affected areas with a landscape shade grass mix and winter wheat for rapid germination. Following good forest management practices, trunks, branches, and brush from fallen trees are being left in place to serve as wildlife habitat. Secondary trails affected by the project will be left as they are, allowing forest regrowth to restore the areas.

Recognizing Wintergreen Gorge as a unique asset of Penn State Behrend—the protection of which is of vital interest across and beyond the college community—a working group of faculty, staff, students, and college leadership has been formed to plan any future projects involving trees on campus and in those areas of the Gorge owned by Behrend. This group will work in collaboration with key committees of the college’s Sustainability program and external sustainable forestry experts to ensure the proper stewardship of Behrend’s forests for generations to come.

The group will also be exploring the creation of a Behrend Forest Conservation Fund to provide monies for sustainable forestry research and planning on the Behrend campus and in Wintergreen Gorge. These measures will position the college to respond to the next invasive species, wind event, or other unforeseen future challenge to Penn State Behrend’s tree population.