Shakerag Hollow: update

Thank you to the University President, John McCardell, for making this statement: “We will solve this issue in a way that is not only exemplary, but permanent.” Kudos also to Jon Evans, my colleague in Biology and Assistant Provost for Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, who first found the problem and took immediate action both in the field and in the administrative workings of the University. We are lucky to have leadership that understands the importance of Shakerag Hollow and that cares enough not only to remedy the present situation, but to look to the future and make permanent changes in University policy.

For the full text of the University’s initial statement, see here.

Regrettably, there is not word yet on whether we’ll maximize the educational potential of this debacle by making public the video and a full report. I’m sure more information will be forthcoming as the University takes its next steps.

4 thoughts on “Shakerag Hollow: update

  1. Kathryn Marsh

    Indeed it seems to me that the video would be an invaluable teaching aid. This particular accident happened at Sewanee but we see it happening over and over again on construction sites all over the world where the architects and construction companies pride themselves on their ecological awareness. So often we only take the next learning step because of a mistake and it is much cheaper for the world to learn from one mistake rather than constantly repeating them. No one who has visited Sewanee can fail to see how important ecology and the environment are to the whole university community there, and it would really demonstrate their leadership role to release the video as a teaching aid. I understand that there may be short term problems with its release while investigations, and possible legal problems, are carried out, but I look forward with confidence to its future publication as a teaching aid

  2. batesvillian

    Thanks for the continuing updates. I believe that John McCardell will follow through on his statement above. In my limited interactions with him, I’ve found him to be a decent, principled person who, in his relatively brief time as VC, has genuinely come to love everything about Sewanee,

    I agree that releasing the video would go a long way toward restoring trust. In the interim, though, what about photos? I’m interpreting your past posts to mean that the upper sections of the affected streams are choked with sand/silt from the construction runoff. How far down the slope does it go? Am I right to think that one major implication would be with changes to the pH in the watershed and how that will affect the plant and animal communities in and along the streams?

    One more thought: I wonder if events like this were common, say, a century ago when the plateau was being timbered, or when the golf course was first constructed in (I think) 1899. Surely, the safeguards we put in place today (inadequate as they proved to be) were nonexistant then. While the Shakerag forest escaped relatively unscathed, land use on the plateau would have had implications for the streams draining the rim.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Good thoughts. Yes, many streams were surely heavily impacted at various points in the past. In this case, as far as I can tell, the land was taken back to mineral soil over a large area, then left uncovered. In pre-bulldozer days clearing was messier and we lacked the ability to strip off all the roots in so uniform a manner, so impacts were likely more heterogeneous (but severe — no erosion guards then). That is not to dismiss the massive erosion associated with some ag lands in the past (and today — one cotton field near Cowan is a yearly disaster). Strip mines have the longest impact — acid drainage from them goes on for decades. And on a longer time frame, the Cumberland Plateau is eroding away bit by bit, so all of Sewanee will be in the valley soonish (in geological terms — a few million).

      We’ll be studying biological impacts when the students return in a few weeks. An unfortunate way to provide material for class projects, but it will mesh with the salamander studies that I had planned in that area already.

      I agree with your statements about Dr McCardell. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is directing people to make sure that this gets fixed properly and that we never get into this situation again.


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