In August 2021, an anonymous donor gifted more than 110 acres of land to the College off the northwest corner of the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC).
“This is a huge opportunity,” said Dave Heithaus, director of Kenyon’s Office of Green Initiatives. “It’s a beautiful piece of ground.”
While planning for this newly acquired land is at an early stage, Heithaus noted that the land will ultimately become accessible to the general public and promote healthy ecosystem functioning. Heithaus also revealed that by June 2022, the Office of Green Initiatives will publish a 20-year strategic plan for the land, which is currently being used for grazing cows and boasts a house and barn, which are both historic, mid-19th century buildings. The office plans to honor that existing lease for five years.
Heithaus also mentioned the wonderful views available from the hill at the top of the property. “They’re arguably the best views I have seen in central Knox County,” he said.
Founded in 1995, BFEC manages an array of habitats. Prior to this addition, it comprised 500 acres, which includes nine miles of trails and sections of both the Kokosing River and Wolfrun Creek. According to its website, the BFEC aims to “promote natural diversity, [and provide] teaching and self-guided learning for students and community members of all ages,” including 23,000 school-aged children since its inception. The BFEC is also a host to a number of community gatherings, including Kenyon’s Fall Festival, and serves as a site for College-affiliated research on local bird populations.
According to the BFEC website, the expressed purpose of the BFEC is to “share the story of Ohio’s landscape,” and highlight the land’s “extraordinary change in the past 200 years.” As Kenyon approaches the 200th anniversary of its founding, the College’s relationship to land continues to evolve as it acquires new parcels of property through purchases and donations. As a steward of more than 1,000 acres, Kenyon’s relationship to land is relevant not only to its conservation efforts through the BFEC, but also as a matter of the College’s holistic land policy going forward.
The addition of new territory to Kenyon’s property holdings also serves as a reminder of the land’s original occupants. According to Kenyon College’s Land Acknowledgement, ratified in 2020, the “disputed Treaty of Greenville (1795) and the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from this region allowed for the founding of the College in the early 1800s.”
Associate Professor of History Patrick Bottiger, who studies Indigenous history in the Ohio Valley, emphasized that the relationships of Native groups with the land that Kenyon now occupies have not disappeared. “[For] Indigenous peoples,” he said, “their spiritual connections to a place don’t end simply because they left or were forced to leave.”
Heithaus noted that the BFEC operates upon the same land acknowledgement ratified by the rest of the College, and that he hopes to honor the spirit of the acknowledgement. “I think within [whatever the College views is appropriate], we would figure out ways to honor [the land acknowledgement ] — to not just say it, but do it,” Heithaus said. “People are still talking about how to follow [the acknowledgment] up with action.”
According to Heithaus, the BFEC hopes to have sections of the new land available for limited student and community use by early November.
Zoë Packel ’22 contributed to reporting.