Drew University is currently facing financial issues stemming from the pandemic, which has put the beloved “school in the forest” at risk for a potential land sale of 53 acres for residential development. According to an article from the Madison Eagle, word of the sale began circulating in late April of 2021, which has sparked concern amongst Drew students and Madison residents alike.
The Drew Forest is a biodiversity hotspot that serves as a hub for student education and research. But it is also a place where students and the surrounding public can enjoy nature. The Student environmental advocates Erica Cowper (C ’22) and Morgan Zielinski (C’ 22) are taking action through creating petitions, which aim to convince University President, Thomas Schwarz, to sell the forest for permanent conservation, rather than residential homes.
Cowper and Zielinski said they first found out about the potential sale of The Forest in May 2021. The two then met with the leaders of the organization, Friends of Drew Forest, which provided them with more information regarding what is exactly at risk from both a community and environmental standpoint if The Forest is lost.
Friends of the Drew Forest is an organization started by Madison residents. According to their website, their work goes towards “a conservation sale to permanently protect the Drew Forest while providing Drew University with financial support.” The organization started their own petition through Change.org, which has already received 11,408 signatures from Drew students, alumni, Madison residents and residents from surrounding towns.
Although this petition has already had great success, Cowper along with Rachel Papa (C ’23) decided that a petition started and signed by students would have a much greater impact on swaying President Schwarz’s decision. According to Cowper, the petition has been circulating a little over a week and has already received 130 signatures. Zielinski has also taken action by circulating a Google Form to students where they can share experiences, memories, and photos from The Forest. Cowper and Zielinski plan to present the feedback they receive from students to President Schwarz by the end of this spring semester.
Cowper and Papa were also able to have a resolution passed by the Student Government, which specifically requests more transparency from President Schwarz and his plans for The Forest.
Drew’s environmental science students and Friends of the Drew Forest have heavily advocated for the environmental benefits that The Forest brings to our community. According to the Friends of the Drew Forest website, the forest provides Madison’s highest rate of recharge for the Buried Valley Aquifer which provides clean drinking water for 26 NJ municipalities in Morris, Essex, Somerset and Union County. It is also a major contributor to biodiversity where squirrels, herons, foxes, and hawks reside.
Eco-benefits aside, The Forest also contributes greatly to the student body’s wellbeing and education. Both Cowper and Zielinski have conducted independent research in The Forest, using nature as their laboratory. It is also utilized for class learning in courses such as Introductory Biology, Environmental Science, Geology, Ornithology, and Nature Writing. Cowper argues that it also benefits student’s mental health by providing them a space to be in nature.
“I know that if I have a stressful day and I want to take a lap around Zuck or Hepburn, it significantly brightens my mood,” said Cowper.
In an FAQ released by the university addressing the concerns of selling the Drew Forest, it states that ‘Drew remains open to the prospect of conveying land to a conservation organization, consistent with appraised fair market valuation.’ If you are interested in signing the student petition, it will be canvassed in the EC on Tuesday, March 15th at lunchtime.