Litter threatens health of UD’s woods


Karen Gempel discovered the trashed campsite in the last weeks of March.

The native plant life of the University of Dallas woods between SB Hall and SH 114 was littered with campsite equipment, trash and hundreds of alcoholic beverage containers.

The damage isn’t simply about making a mess. It has impacted a sensitive environmental area that is important to the university and the region’s history, Gempel said.

These woods are home to a diversity of wildflowers which have become rare in the Dallas area, said Gempel, who works as the administrative assistant for the English Department and is also a North Texas Master Naturalist and member of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Gempel can trace the history of our woods all the way back to the Native Americans.

Before it was settled, this area was called the Little Bluestem Post Oak Savannah, Gempel said. The bluestem grass still survives in our woods even though it is almost extinct in the Dallas area today, according to Gempel.

Gempel identified the remains of a 400-year-old Indian Marker Tree, which she said only died a few years ago as a result of root-damage when SH 114 was widened. Indian Marker Trees are trees that the Native Americans trained to grow with an arched bend.

Dr. Marcy Brown Marsden, former UD associate biology professor and associate dean, had this tree identified by an arborist, Gempel said. Gempel theorizes that the tree could have been bent to mark a deposit of red iron ore in these woods.

“The woods are a really important part of UD culture,” said Genevieve Frank, co-founder of the UD Sustainability Club. “I think that we can do a better job of protecting this part of our school’s culture and identity by being more aware of the effect that littering has on these shared spaces.”

Gempel said that the worst of the damage has occurred within the last year.

Scattered newspapers dated Feb. 28 show partiers have been there even more recently.

“Who knows who it is,” said Gempel. “Obviously it’s not been just one time, it’s been a lot of times.”

Jerry Haba, director of facilities, said that the woods are managed by UD administration.

“[Facilities] maintain[s] the area that’s cultivated and irrigated,” Haba said. “What we try to do in the woods is make trails.”

Gempel’s favorite place is a small knoll overlooking a bluestem slope that cuts down to a small clearing in the woods.

“This is a beautiful little view,” Gempel said, looking out across the treetops which stretch in every direction.

On top of the knoll is a 250-year-old post oak that the partiers killed by tearing off its branches for firewood, Gempel said.

Now the ancient post oak stands, mutilated and dead, over a fire ring littered with beer cans. Down in the clearing by a picnic table and overturned camping chair, a large recycle bin lies on its side spewing trash. A piece of clothing and an empty water jug hang from a nearby tree.

Besides the littering, Gempel said that a bluestem meadow near the trailhead has been converted into “a convenient dumping-ground for mulch.”

“The mulch isn’t trash, but it has impinged upon the natural landscape,” Gempel said.

Haba said the mulch is “used on the trails.” Keeping up the trails “takes a lot of work,” he said, because “there’s a lot of erosion.”

Facilities uses materials such as pea gravel and wood chips to be “green” and “safe for the forest,” according to Haba.

“We have to realize… what we have and try to save it,” Gempel said. “Things will disappear and we won’t have any knowledge or appreciation for what is gone until after it’s gone.”


  1. Leave the site better than you found it. Whatever you carry in, carry out and bring some extra trash in bags when you go. Keep the fire circles and logs arrayed, but make sure you aren’t polluting the woods for your fellow students.


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