As Towson State University looks for ways to expand, a hidden campus oasis called the Glen is proving to be a tempting site.
University president Hoke L. Smith calls it a classic battle of American interests -- growth vs. nature. But Rachel J. Burks, university geologist, says the historic 1930s glade off York Road should be protected as a matter of social conscience.
Both have the same concern: How to save the 6-acre, oft-forgotten preserve amid an ambitious expansion program that university officials presented to community leaders yesterday.
"It's important to have wild space where creatures live, plants can be found and students can see the interaction," said Burks, an associate professor of geology. "We should be good keepers of the environment."
The proposal to build a parking garage and walkway next to the Glen has triggered concern among faculty members. They worry about the effects of air pollution and erosion on the grove, which is built into a ravine where wood thrushes, two red-shouldered hawks and other wildlife make their homes.
"I would say it would be a great loss of a natural area," said Lois D. Odell, a retired biology professor who used the Glen as a teaching tool for students while working at the university for nearly 50 years.
Today, professors still bring students on forays into the Glen -- an overgrown retreat with rampant poison ivy and a smelly, biologically dead stream marred by asphalt discarded from construction.
"We use this reserve in a number of geology classes. It's a wonderful place for them to learn about rocks, rocks that are a billion years old," Burks said.
"It's historically important to the [biology] department to provide ready access to a field laboratory," said biology professor James C. Hull, who recently led a group of university staff members on a tour of the meandering paths. "I think students would continue to use it if we plan it carefully."
The Glen is sandwiched between the 7800 York Road building, home to offices and a restaurant, which the university wants to buy, and Stephens Hall, built in 1914. The proposed parking garage would be behind the 7800 York Road building.
Hull is leading a charge among his colleagues to clean up the Glen, which has become shaded by sky-high maples and choked with invasive plants such as honeysuckle. He envisions an environmental park, not just for university students, but for neighbors and area schools as well.
Dates to 1935
The Glen, a one-time pasture, became a focal point for the university in 1935 when Works Progress Administration workers planted 300 trees there; built stone shelters, bridges and cooking areas; and laid 42,000 square feet of flagstone pathways.
During its heyday, from the 1930s into the 1950s, the Glen, or Dell as it was sometimes called, was used by the community for picnics, school field trips and recreation. But the park languished as the university expanded rapidly from about 400 students in 1947 to 12,000 students in 1976.
It has a brief resurgence in the 1970s when the park's grassy basin served as an outdoor theater for the Glen Players. Today, ** decrepit wood lighting poles hover incongruously amid 100-year-old white oaks.
Overgrown and hidden
The preserve became hidden from public view as the greenery overwhelmed the original entrance and more than 700 trees turned the Glen into a forest. It became a great place for drinking parties and playing hooky from class, former students say.
Over the years, many of the original walks have been covered by soil, the structures exposed to the elements and a botany pond silted dry.
In 1991, Hull solicited the help of Boy Scout troops to begin the tedious chore of uncovering steps and walks. Using old photographs, he gained clues about where they were located.
"I look at this as an archaeological find. Things are hidden from view," Hull said.
Justin King, past president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and a Towson resident since 1983, often walks his dog on campus but has never seen the secluded spot.
"I've never heard of this -- ever," he said, adding that its restoration would be an asset for area families.
To increase the community's use of the Glen, geologist Burks would like to see educational displays, so "people can learn something as well as having it a meditative place." Hull would like to plant every species of tree that grows in Maryland.
And now that the university has a fresh, 10-year master plan for expansion, the faculty members say it's time to focus attention on the Glen. A Glen Conservation Committee has been formed.
"As we develop the master plan, we need to think about what we want to incorporate," Hull said. "It's going to be a project that will last forever."
Pub Date: 6/06/97