Reminiscing on the semiannual day of community care
Students, alumni, and faculty walk into the Canyon carrying shovels, maidenhair ferns, and banjos as Greenboard starts grilling zucchini and veggie dogs. Staff members roll in wheelbarrows as Girl Scouts and neighbors explore a cluster of sulphur shelf fungi growing up the side of a tree. That’s how Reed’s Canyon should look this Saturday, Oct. 3. But the semiannual Canyon Day, Reed’s oldest tradition, has been cancelled for a second time.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Reed grounds manager, Zac Perry, to cancel the spring 2020 semester’s Canyon Day, which was originally planned for April 4. And while the Reed community had hoped that Canyon Day could return in the fall, unfortunately, the pandemic is still going strong.
“Reed Canyon Day is Reed’s oldest active tradition, and when I say active — it’s not dead — it’s just on hold,” Perry said. “It’s a celebration of the green space in the middle of our campus.”
Canyon Day is typically filled with music and food, bringing together people from the farthest corners of the Reed community; however, the day is more than a simple celebration.
“It was set up long ago to kind of be the first and only management of the space,” Perry said. “Management” of the canyon has worn many faces over the years and has greatly evolved in the last few decades. The old Canyon Day happened once a year, and Perry added the second day when he began working at Reed in 1999.
“The canyon also had a different objective back then; it was more desired or perceived to be more of a park setting,” Perry said. “Most of the efforts of Canyon Day of old were burning the understory, raking together the biomass and getting rid of that material, and creating what you would maybe visualize as a park in your city.”
Canyon Day was essentially the only day of physical engagement in the Canyon, and previous management practices sought to preserve the aesthetics of the space to the point where they would remove beaver dams, burn biomass, and even dredged the lake for swimming, Perry said.
“Then in the late 90’s, the effort shifted to more of a restoration [and] rehabilitation focus,” Perry said.
But as they allowed the Canyon to grow on its own, fallen trees and other debris created safety hazards and the school actively suggested that students avoid entering the space. When Perry joined in 1999, he worked with Reed to develop a long-term restoration strategy that revived the native species while also creating trails and developing a harmonious space for both nature as well as the Reed community.
“To take something that was socially kind of the blight of the college, and make it as kind of a centerpiece, is quite a social shift and an event that reflects the physical transformation that’s occurred,” Perry said.
Now, Canyon Day looks completely different from its old self.
“Basically, we would probably spend the morning removing invasive species from the forest floor like: english ivy, Himalayan Blackberry, and morning glory,” Perry said, and after some snacks and more music, volunteers would head back out to start replanting those disturbed sites with native plants.
“Basically if you take a walk through the canyon, those are the plants that you see,” Perry said. “It’s the ferns, the small understory shrubs, the small trees; those were all introduced through Canyon Day events. And so basically, Canyon Day has allowed us to transform the Canyon, with the help of the community, to an area that creates more balance for wildlife.”
Because of the social aspects of Canyon Day — as well as the limited trail space that makes social distancing difficult — hosting the celebration during COVID-19 has been challenging.
“I think the level of testing that Reed is doing and the comfort level with community members being on campus together is gonna lend itself well to this event coming back sooner than later,” Perry said.
Perry remains optimistic that Canyon Day will return for the spring 2021 semester, but warns that it may look different from how it was in the past.
Perry also noted that the physical engagement of Canyon Day directly prevents grounds maintenance from having to use pesticides and other chemicals to manage the space. If Canyon Day is unable to return to its former glory, the restorative practices that have dominated the management of the canyon for the past twenty years may begin to regress; however, it would take years of missed Canyon Days for a setback like that to occur.
“What Canyon Day was really successful at is bringing people together, educating people about the resources and what it takes to protect [them]. And, unfortunately, we’re missing that communication with our community,” Perry said.
Which is where Canyon Column comes into play. Every other week, the Quest will highlight a different aspect of the canyon to ensure Reedies continue to connect with the space.
“Then when we’re ready to come back together, people have a better understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing, or be more willing to come out on a rainy day and pull those weeds because they feel a connection to the space,” Perry said.
The Canyon is not just a green space on campus. It is the heartbeat of Reed, a vibrant ecosystem and a home for dozens of species, and a safe space for students to improve their mental and physical health. As we miss yet another Canyon Day, keep your eyes and ears open and stay prepared to help rebuild what we stand to lose.