Marcelene Leverett, sophomore, guest writer
At one point during its existence, Victory Lake, the site we now know as a mucky wetland with nice trails and interesting Bald Cypress trees, was actually a lake. In 1929, Berry decided to transform the wetlands area behind Martha’s Meadow into a lake as a natural memorial to honor and recognize Berry students who died in World War I. The lake provided Berry faculty and students with a beautiful recreational site to picnic, boat and swim in close proximity to main campus.
If you have been to Victory Lake within the last three decades, you know it no longer has the appearance of a lake. What was once a recreational lake has reverted to its original wetland state due to the development of sinkholes in a karstic environment. A karstic topography is characterized by sinkholes and caves because it is made up of soluble rocks like limestone. The limestone that underlies Victory Lake became destabilized, resulting in perforations and the draining of the lake.
Still, the area serves as a habitat for an array of unique and important wetland species and continues to be a wonderful educational and recreational site. Although students can no longer boat in Victory Lake, a group of students and faculty hope to resuscitate plans to establish an educational boardwalk into the center of the wetlands to provide unique access and observation opportunities to students and visitors.
Recently, the City of Rome needed to construct a water pipeline to the Stonebridge community. The most direct path to transfer water from the City of Rome to the Stonebridge community runs through Berry’s campus, and the original map set the pipeline to run right through Victory Lake. Because Victory Lake is a wetland situated in a karstic ecosystem, constructing a pipeline through this topography could have led to more sinkholes and other potential disruptions to local species.
Therefore, when the Berry College Educational Land Management (ELM) committee learned of these problematic plans late in the decision-making process, they proposed a modification to the route. The ELM is an advisory board to the president, and the committee manages Berry’s land resources for educational purposes and uses of benefits from the land. It is composed of faculty and staff representatives from various areas on campus and students. They meet regularly to discuss ways to guide and coordinate the process by which specific areas on campus are safeguarded and used, ensuring that the use is compatible with other designated and approved uses of campus lands.
To avoid construction directly through the wetland, the committee’s modification set the water pipeline to the northeast of Victory Lake. The City of Rome successfully constructed the water pipeline around Victory Lake.
In return for the administration allowing the construction of a pipeline through campus, the city constructed fire hydrants around the grounds to enhance the prevention of forest fires.
However, the ELM committee also requested that the administration, in return, build an educational boardwalk over Victory Lake. The boardwalk would include signage to inform individuals of the importance of wetland ecosystems and the implications of a karstic terrain.
During a conversation with one of my professors, I was intrigued when I learned about the proposed boardwalk over Victory Lake. The boardwalk itself would be a special asset to the campus, while the meaning behind it would also be significant to future visitors.
From the current trail around Victory Lake, it is difficult to view the array of organisms and biodiversity in the wetland. The proposed boardwalk will allow individuals to see an increased number of turtles, fish, snakes, birds and other species that occupy the wetland.
“The boardwalk would provide access into the adjacent lake wetlands which are currently inaccessible. This would give faculty and students a close-up experience of the habitat and organisms there,” Dr. Reneé Carleton, professor of biology at Berry, said.
The boardwalk will give visitors a much better view to see plants and animals, including diminishing species such as the Rusty Blackbird, Prothonotary Warbler and Bald Eagle.
In addition, an educational boardwalk will provide an interactive environment for many Berry classes on campus. Various professors and students would take advantage of the boardwalk.
“I would conduct outdoor laboratories for my Principles of Zoology and Vertebrate Zoology courses to provide a ‘living’ experience. I personally would use the boardwalk for recreational bird and nature watching,” Dr. Carleton said.
Both professors and students will reap the benefits of an added outdoor laboratory. The Department of Recreation and the Spires will benefit from the boardwalk because it offers an additional location for outdoor programs. The construction of an educational and recreational boardwalk will allow individuals to take a much closer look at the biodiversity the karstic wetland holds, right in the middle of our campus. And, by providing public education regarding the vulnerability of karstic regions and wetlands, we can be thoughtful about these landscapes and potentially avoid future mismanagement.
You may be wondering if the boardwalk has already been built or if it is in the works. I know this might come as a surprise, but the reason we do not have a boardwalk yet is due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. During preparations for the boardwalk construction, the pandemic emerged, bringing everything to a halt. Berry administration had to devote their time and money to developing COVID-19 protocols and implementing safety features.
Staying consistent with its precedence, the pandemic spoiled another potential benefit for Berry College students. Therefore, I would like to put the boardwalk over Victory Lake back on the radar. Students and faculty have patiently waited throughout the pandemic, and now we look forward to this proposed addition.
I look forward to students being able to get back out on Victory Lake, enjoying this memorial to Berry heroes, with an additional educational component that will foster improved awareness and appreciation of our campus ecosystems. Hopefully, it will serve as a reminder of the importance of understanding the natural environments around us.