Stony Brook Celebrates as Ashley Schiff Nature Preserve Turns 50

Stony Brook Celebrates as Ashley Schiff Nature Preserve Turns 50


[ Music ] 1969 was a very troubled
time on college campuses. There were protests, particularly about the
war and other things as well. Ashley Schiff was beloved by students at a
time when there was turmoil on the Stony Brook campus and there was turmoil in the United
States, based on this idea that the people with power wouldn’t listen to the people without
power. And Ashley’s magic was that he would listen
to students. I think that they knew that he really cared
about them and that he wanted to teach them and lead them. And he was modest. He never took himself that seriously. He never realized what a good teacher he was
until someone told him. He complained a lot about how the campus looked. Bulldozers everywhere. Mud everywhere. The land that was given to the University
was a beautiful woodland and he felt very passionately about the destruction of the
landscape and he felt that he couldn’t just tell them to do something — that he had to show them. And he went, and with his own money bought
azaleas and rhododendrons, and picked a Saturday and said, “Hey come help
me plant this.” And he dug holes underneath his office. And he and his students planted things. He died in October of ’69. It was a heart virus and he was sick only
a week. It was just a shock. Unexpected in every way. He was 37. The students from the 1960s had been in
this mode of protesting and they did this when he died. They were protesting death. They didn’t know how to express themselves. And they were just devastated. President Toll was like, “What can I do
to help you?” “What can I do to make this better?” “Can I name a building after him?” But the students felt that it would be
much more meaningful to save a piece of land to be forever wild. Because they knew that that’s what he wanted. And so the Ashley Schiff Preserve was born. Coming into the Ashley Schiff Preserve,
it’s like stepping back in time to a time when we didn’t have a lot of shopping malls. We didn’t have a lot of concrete. It’s a very peaceful, calm place to visit. You don’t get that from, you know, your
dorm, or your friends. I mean you can get comforts, but it’s a
whole different kind of, like, life talking to you and just listening to the wind and
the birds. It’s very special. Very unique. I like hiking in the park preserve. It
kind of reminds me of camping and hiking around in your childhood and just kind of that pure
fun of exploring nature. It’s like a different atmosphere, as compared
to the rest of the campus. Really calm and it’s just a nice break from
like how busy and like stressful campus life can be. It’s sort of this hidden gem on campus. So, you just take a few turns from Roth and
then all the sudden you’re in an actual wilderness, which is just really exciting. And it’s just really beautiful here. So, if you just want, like, a peaceful moment
to yourself, you can just come and take a stroll through the woods. I think it is really important for students
to know about the preserve and also, the history, and visions, and the goals that Professor
Schiff and his students had. Right now we are facing heavy urbanization,
and also climate change. Just knowing about what grows in your backyard
and what grows in your front yard. Just little things like that can make a huge
change. It’s such a wonderful advertisement for
a university that cares. You know that cares about the environment,
that also cares about tradition. I think the most important thing that we
do here, is we give students who want to be in nature but have never had a chance, an opportunity
to just go for a walk and see things they wouldn’t have seen before. [ Music ]

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