Visitors to Spalding Conservancy might forget they are just a mile from the Franklin & Marshall campus. Tucked beyond the athletic fields of Baker Campus and away from the bustle of Harrisburg Pike, the land remains unexplored by many in the F&M community. But students and faculty in the College’s Departments of Earth and Environment and Biology have been conducting research in the Baker Woodlands, of which the conservancy is a part, since the 1980s.
The conservancy has held many forms in its time: Native American settlements, forest, farmland. The Lancaster Brickworks company produced bricks there from local clay for 60 years; the uneven land still reflects former clay pits, some of which were once filled with municipal waste from Lancaster City.
The administration of Keith Spalding, the College’s 11th president, purchased part of the site in 1980. In 2010, the site was designated Spalding Conservancy in memory of the president and his wife, Dorothy (Dot) Spalding. Spalding led the transformation of F&M during his 20-year tenure (1963-1983), growing the College into a national liberal arts institution and presiding over coeducation, the construction and renovation of most campus buildings, the doubling of the student body, and the four-fold growth of the endowment.
Today, Spalding Conservancy is covered with natural vegetation. It sprawls more than 50 acres of woods, grassland and marsh, and boardwalks cover its wetlands where professors take their students to study wildlife and habitats. An organic garden and beehives are managed by F&M’s Center for the Sustainable Environment, and deer exclosures show how vegetation grows inside and outside the fences. Art classes have used the conservancy for outdoor sculpture projects, and students in geoscience classes go there to learn about the value of protected natural spaces. The natural laboratory cultivates discussions of human-induced environmental change, environmental history, conservation and land preservation, and other interdisciplinary study, both a hub for scholarship and a place of serenity welcoming walkers, runners, and those wishing to reflect under a ceiling of trees.