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Tree Campus USA / Landscaping

The Vassar landscape has long been a source of inspiration and awe for the community, dating way back to the College’s inception when Matthew Vassar personally laid out the first plantings. To this day we strive to live up to this legacy through our lawn management, tree care plan, and campus programming.

Part of this commitment is manifested in our Campus Landscape Master Plan, adopted in 2008. You read through the plan here

Tree Campus USA

In 2014, Vassar received its first certification through the Arbor Day Foundation as a member of Tree Campus USA. Through the program we developed a dedicated Arboretum Committee under the Campus Master Planning Committee to monitor campus landscaping programs and review decisions concerning the removal and planting of trees on campus.

The Arboretum Committee developed the Campus Tree Care Plan to provide goals and guidance for how the campus landscape should be stewarded. You can read the plan here: Vassar Tree Care Plan. 

As part of our commitment to Tree Campus USA, we now organize annual events that support the Vassar Arboretum, including tree tours and service projects. In September 2013 we partnered with the NYDEC and the Student Conservation Association to plant 1,100 trees and shrubs, remove invasive vines, and build 200 feet of boardwalk on the Vassar Farm & Ecological Preserve. Vine Removal on campus and on the VFEP is on going and we are always looking for volunteers to help us with the effort - its a great way to get outside and see the campus from a new perspective.

Water Quality

With urban expansion ever on the rise—increasing the number of buildings, cars, roads, and the road salt, oils, and other contaminants that accompany this infrastructure —what is the ecological burden of maintaining our current lifestyle? In 2012 Vassar was fortunate enough to receive New York State DEC and Hudson River Estuary Program funding, to study the effects of urban development on the Fonteynkill stream that runs through campus. The research focuses on the effects of the new science building and landscape restoration projects around it. We are examining the stream before, during and after construction, as well as the effects of existing impairments, such as paved surfaces, road salt, leaky sewer lines, etc.

We view this project as linked to a larger, campus-wide effort to reduce negative impacts on local streams. When the new science facility is completed, a parking lot adjacent to the stream will be replaced with a wetland, and green infrastructure such as bioretention ponds will be installed and along with repaired sewer lines. 

To monitor the Fonteynkill,  three water quality devices have been placed along the stream to record the temperature, pH (how acidic, or alkaline the stream is), turbidity (the murkiness of the  water caused by suspended sediment), and conductivity (a measure of dissolved ions primarily used to identify abundance of road salt) every 20 minutes. Water samples are taken regularly with the help of student researchers and the Collins Ecological Research Fellow to test for these qualities as well as bacterial abundance.

For more information on the project, data, or to access further information please visit  http://www.dutchesswatersheds.org/research/401-fonteynkill-project.


In Spring 2014 we launched a pilot of naturalization on campus - intentionally not mowing certain areas of campus to allow native plants a chance to thrive. The first 3 sites include establishing a buffer zone around Sunset Lake and the hill just above it, the slope behind Baldwin Hall, and a stretch of lawn behind Noyes & Cushing. In total about 4 acres have  been included in this program for which some of the benefits include reduced stormwater runoff, improved soil quality, increased biodiversity and habitat for wildlife. Each site has informational signage and thanks to volunteers, there are 2 bird boxes at each site offering a home to blue birds.