Natural Legacy

by Mary Shipp Bartlett

Grounds crew

There is hardly a person who has walked onto the Scripps College campus for the first time and not said, either aloud or to oneself, “Wow!”

It’s that gorgeous.

Such beauty doesn’t happen by chance— and, at Scripps, without reason and purpose. Ellen Browning Scripps’ words say it all:

“I am thinking of a college campus whose simplicity and beauty will unobtrusively seep into a student’s consciousness and quietly develop a standard of taste and judgment.”

Led by Director Lola Trafecanty and her assistant director, Fred Carlson, the grounds crew are not only knowledgeable about how to preserve the campus using aggressive conservation methods, they understand the significance of the historic campus beauty to those who live, work, and visit here.

As co-chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, Trafecanty emphasizes best green practices in the work of her staff, including strategic planting, selfmulching mowers, drip system upgrades, recycling of water, and minimal use of herbicides, among other efforts.

Trafecanty and Carlson also work throughout the year with students who are involved in environmental analysis studies and with those working in the student garden, established in 2002 with Megan Ritchie Saffitz ’02.

“Architect Gordon Kaufmann and landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout specifically designed the Scripps campus with Southern California’s unique indoor-outdoor style of living in mind,” says Trafecanty.

Because of the two architects’ prescience, she and her crew have a platform to continue to build on Kaufmann and Huntsman-Trout’s early sustainability efforts.

  • The College’s scenic interior courtyards and large trees naturally protect against the intense summer heat, reducing the need to use valuable energy to cool buildings.
  • The frequent use of sand-set pavers and decomposed granite allow water to easily percolate back into the groundwater.
  • Also, the campus’s wide range of low water-use plants, flowers, and trees support the area’s diverse ecological system with minimal use of water.

To further conserve water, large grass areas, such as the East-West allé leading to Alumnae Field, have been turned into decomposed granite areas. The grounds crew recycles winter tree prunings into mulch that is placed under planting areas to control weeds, as well as reduce water use.

“And,” says Trafecanty, “by operating self-mulching mowers, we’re able to produce less green waste since clippings are immediately recycled back into the lawns as organic matter. Integrated pest management (IPM) is an ecological approach that uses an array of complementary methods, with pesticides as a last resort.”

Since 1990, the College’s central irrigation system’s flow sensing and detecting capabilities have judiciously watered the landscape.

“Our drainage system includes a dry well that directs water runoff to return into the groundwater,” says Trafecanty. “Only overflow goes into the street drainage system. Additionally, all campus fountains recirculate and empty into the groundwater, while drought-tolerant, native plants, such as Mexican ‘desert museum’ Palo Verde, replace high water-use trees.”

One recent success story is the replanting of Elm Tree Lawn, first begun more than 10 years ago when many of the original elms were diseased and posed a safety hazard. A new, heartier species— the Princeton elm—was purchased and nurtured in containers for several years. The planting of 18 new elms was completed in the summer of 2008.

Today, Trafecanty and Carlson, a tree specialist, nurture the elms and monitor them for pest control (rodents like the young tender sprouts that appear each spring; the duo has solved the problem by wrapping the trunks with barely visible mylar barriers that prevent squirrels from gaining a foothold and a meal).

The young elms are thriving, providing increasing amounts of shade and beauty each year for Commencement and other events, as seen in photographs on this page and on page 5.

Thank you, Scripps College groundskeepers, for your love and care of the Scripps campus.

Director of Grounds Lola Trafecanty talks to groundskeepers Copeland Andrews, center, and Ramon Estrada on Bowling Green. The College recently recognized Estrada for his outstanding contribution to the Scripps community at Staff Appreciation Day in May.


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