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Bishop Woods awaits verdict, controversy continues

By Bonnie Meibers, For The Miami Student

The dispute over Bishop Woods continued Friday Feb. 27, when a Miami University biology professor, David Gorchov, submitted a letter to the editor to The Miami Student. This letter, which appeared in Friday's paper, stated the Natural Areas Committee's concerns about tentative plans to add a grassy lawn and widen pathways in Bishop Woods, among other things.

The Natural Areas Committee is made up of mostly Miami University biology and botany professors as well as community members. They are concerned with keeping the area between Armstrong, Culler Hall, Shideler Hall and Upham Hall, also known as Bishop Woods, looking like a natural wood rather than a park.

Miami University's landscape architect, Vincent Cirrito, proposed a plan to restore the woods by removing invasive plants and dead and dying trees, rerouting and widening pathways, installing LED lights along the paths and adding a grassy lawn to the center of Bishop Woods.

Gorchov, among others in the committee, has concerns about aspects of this plan. He communicated these concerns to Cirrito in a memo as well as this letter to the editor.

Chairman of the Natural Areas Committee, Douglas Taylor, said Gorchov had no authority to speak for the committee. He also thought the letter put Cirrito in a negative light.

"He acted like it [the letter] was a committee action, but it was not," Taylor said. "That letter implies that Vinnie [Cirrito] is a liar and he is not a liar."

Cirrito is also a member of the Natural Areas Committee.

"It was inappropriate for him [Gorchov] to speak for the committee," Cirrito said.

Since Cirrito is a member of the Natural Areas Committee, he said that he thinks of Gorchov, himself and the rest of the committee as a team and that he felt hurt after reading Gorchov's letter. Cirrito fears this letter has caused unfortunate tension within the committee.

"I regret any negative connotations to Vinnie," Gorchov said. "I highly respect him."

The Natural Areas Committee shares Gorchov's concerns, however, not everyone on the committee supports his sentiments.

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"In places where I referred to 'the committee' in the letter I was referring to a memo we voted on on Feb. 23," Gorchov said.

This memo outlined aspects of the plan that the committee approved of and aspects that they had concerns about. Ten people voted "yes" on this memo, zero voted "no" and four abstained from voting. Cirrito is one of the committee members who abstained.

"The memo made points I make in the letter," Gorchov said.

Also in his letter, Gorchov mentioned that in Cirrito's previous letter to the editor, which appeared in the Tuesday Feb. 24 issue of The Miami Student, Cirrito made false comments. Cirrito presented the Natural Areas Committee with a tentative plan in May of 2014. This plan outlined repaving and realigning paths, adding lighting, thinning of trees less than six inches in diameter, removal of invasive plants and providing a central area for gathering. This plan was unanimously approved according to both Gorchov and Cirrito.

On Feb. 11, Cirrito presented the Natural Areas Committee with a revised, more complete plan. In this plan there was a grassy lawn added to the center of Bishop Woods. The committee, however, Gorchov says, did not support all facets of this revised plan.

Gorchov and most members of the committee do not want grass to be planted in the center of Bishop Woods. They fear it will spread into other areas of the wood.

"Grass is a major concern because it could spread into the woods and that raises the risk that mowers would mow a wider path," Gorchov said.

W. Hardy Eshbaugh, a professor emeritus of Botany at Miami University and a member of both the Natural Areas and the Bishop Woods Committees, suggested that instead of grass, which would unwantedly spread, the contractors doing the physical work could plant wild ginger.

Wild ginger does not need to be mowed and would not spread to other areas in the woods, says Eshbaugh. This would save money on mowing and maintenance costs, while still giving the feel of a lawn in the center.

A second, smaller concern is the width of the paths. The width of the paths is a concern because of the grass that would be planted next to the paths. Similar to the concern for the grass in the center of the woods, the grass along the pathways could potentially spread and choke out native plant species.

After receiving the memo from the Natural Areas Committee, Cirrito is working on addressing their concerns. He is revising his plans to include different plants to be planted as well as eliminating the lawn next to the paths.

Both sides of this disagreement are looking into the future with a positive outlook.

"I'm looking forward to just actually doing the project now," Cirrito said.

Cirrito is hoping to continue an open dialogue with the committee, while Gorchov and those who share his concerns are optimistic their concerns will be well received.