Kenyon’s Middle Path has long been a defining feature of the campus, but it has also been a point of contention, especially in regards to accessibility. Summer rains have carved bumps and troughs in the path, and winter snow often turns the gravel to ice. The renovations completed in recent years — which added accessibility ramps and improved the quality of the gravel — have done little to help the problem. Now students are wondering if now is the time to pave Middle Path once and for all.
The most recent conversation began on the Facebook group “Overheard at Kenyon,” where members of the Kenyon community record funny or noteworthy things they hear on campus. Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20 posted a snippet of dialogue she heard between a student and a new faculty member, who were discussing how difficult it is to navigate Middle Path in the winter. She ended the post with a statement: “If the people who run things at Kenyon College have an ounce of care and commitment to injured and/or disabled students, faculty, staff, and guests (and also stroller-users), they will pave Middle Path.”
The post has received nearly 200 comments from students, community members and alumni alike. Many expressed their shared frustration with the state of Middle Path.
“Middle path is, frankly, unsafe!” Paige Bullock ’21 wrote. “I’ve had trouble this summer biking down Middle Path because of the huge gullies created by the rain, and there were many times when I was walking backwards giving a tour and almost twisted my ankles in those gullies.”
“In history we learned the accumulation of knowledge was the foundation of progress,” Teri Lammers ’84 commented. “Gravel was probably a high tech solution to [rougher] path in its day. We can do better now.”
Other commenters worried that paving might degrade Kenyon’s natural beauty.
“We need to step back and acknowledge that Kenyon has a pastoral landscape worth preserving,” user Dudgeon Stephie commented. “Aesthetics and landscape DO matter. And it’s possible to improve accessibility without sacrificing them.”
The material that currently paves Middle Path was chosen as a compromise between accessibility and aesthetics. However, President Sean Decatur recognizes that this compromise might not meet everyone’s needs.
“There have been some serious problems with this material, which we had hoped would be the solution to bridge both tradition and accessibility,” Decatur said. “In my mind we need to determine whether this material can be fixed and we can still have a path that satisfies tradition and is also accessible. And if not, then we need to move in another direction.”
Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman blames the difficulties with the paving material on a series of irregular weather patterns, which weren’t as prevalent at the time of the project’s inception eight years ago.
“While in good weather the path works the way it’s supposed to work, there are winter conditions—and now spring and summer conditions—that we can’t control,” Kohlman said. “Right now my goal is to have a comprehensive conversation with the trustees in October to kind of lay out all the issues that we’re having physically with the path.”
Kohlman reminds students that, regardless of the Board of Trustees’ decision, the process will take time.
“Even if President Decatur came to me tomorrow and said, ‘pave Middle Path,’ there’s no way I could get it done before winter,” Kohlman said. “We’re going to have at least one more winter [with the current path], depending on which direction we go and how we solve some of these other issues. It’s a conversation that we’re going to continue to have with the trustees and see where it goes.”