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An Oasis Grows in Newark

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Nestled within the city, Rutgers University in Newark in recent years has transformed itself into an oasis of flowering trees, native plants and colorful birds.

The greening of the campus, notes Claus Holzapfel, assistant professor, biological sciences, "gives people a chance to look at nature in places where they wouldn't usually expect it."

Part of that transformation began four years ago as an Earth Day celebration. On that day, volunteers from Rutgers-Newark took part in a day of service performing gardening tasks at the Greater Newark Conservatory. The next year, Assistant Professor Gabriela Kütting, who teaches global environmental politics, initiated development of a sustainable garden on campus consisting of native New Jersey plants.

Providing a backdrop for the transformation, the Department of Physical Plant several years ago ripped out tons of concrete on the Norman Samuels Plaza and planted large swaths of grass. Now it is focusing on filling the campus's tree canopy. Last year, Sal Palatucci, grounds supervisor, applied for a grant through the New Jersey Tree Foundation and the Beautiful Newark initiative to plant trees along the campus corridors. Lining the streets are more than 100 new trees, including Japanese lilac, plum, cherry and dogwood. This year, he hopes to receive up to 70 additional trees.

As the campus has transformed, both people and birds have found Rutgers in Newark a more welcoming place. More than 100 species of birds now rest here during their spring and fall migrations. With them, too, has come a responsibility.

"By attracting birds we now have a duty to provide them with food sources and places to hide," notes Holzapfel, who leads bird walks on campus in the spring and fall. To meet that need, campus volunteers and professionals from the Greater Newark Conservatory planted another sustainable garden with blueberry, elderberry and other bushes.

The development of the campus as an urban greenspace provides a model for how cities can provide settings where nature can be observed. An ecologist who studies the formation of novel communities by species that previously did not exist together, Holzapfel has been watching how the white-throated sparrows that winter on campus have been forming a home in Newark. "They are forming a new community you can see here," he says. To take part in one of Holzapfel's bird walks this May, go to runewarkbiology.rutgers.edu/Holzapfel%20Lab.