GCC is fortunate to have a large of swath of forested land on campus to the west of the main building. This forest has “circumneutral” soil (close to pH 7), which is between acidic and alkaline. This is atypical of mixed deciduous forests in New England where there are usually acidic substrates. Because of this difference, we have tree species that are uncommon here such as Ostrya, (commonly called Hop-hornbeam) as well as the more recognized trees, shrubs and wild flowers studied by our botany and natural history students.
The forest is an integral part of the curriculum in courses such as ecology, natural history, botany and environmental science as well as in the Outdoor Leadership program. A terrestrial salamander research project being done in these woods is going into its sixth year. In the soil science course, we pay special attention to the forest soil because of its importance in our region for capturing, holding and purifying water. Forests are an integral part of the greater regional watershed. Water that falls as precipitation gets absorbed into the soil and works its way through the underground profile into streams and eventually into rivers.
Also on the GCC campus are several wetlands that play a vital role in capturing, holding and infiltrating water back into the aquifer. In the Outdoor Learning Lab, we have a small wetland that includes a marsh and a wet meadow. Though this site is relatively small it offers the opportunity to both look at the uniqueness of wetland vegetation and also examine the role of wetland soils and discover how they vary from those that exist in upland areas. This small wetland is quite diverse – more so than any other ecosystem that we have here on campus. (really?) The boardwalk extending into the wetlands allows students to peer closely into an unfamiliar environment without damaging the soft soils and wetland plants growing there. It also is a quiet and partially hidden place to sit and reflect.