UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Concerns over the potential damage to campus trees due to people climbing or attaching hammocks or slack lines to their trunks and limbs caused Penn State to ask the University Park community in April to refrain from such activities. However, recognizing that people enjoy engaging with nature, the University's Office of Physical Plant, in conjunction with Housing and Residence Life, recently installed the first of two planned “hammock groves” near East Halls.
The grove, which is on the south side of Stone Hall, consists of seven staggered cylindrical posts for Penn Staters to attach their hammocks. The posts were donated by Clayco, the construction management firm for the East Halls renovations.
“We are very excited to offer our students the first hammock grove on campus,” said Conal Carr, director of housing operations. “We believe they will enjoy the open space and ability to gather with friends, without any negative impact on our trees.”
“If the new hammock areas with the permanent posts are used, as we expect them to be, we can look to install more around campus,” added Brien Phiel, supervisor for grounds maintenance, ornamental horticulture/arboriculture at Penn State. “Our goal is to get these hammock groves in areas with existing shade and, if they're used, possibly plant new trees around the groves to provide shade in the future.”
In April, OPP urged students, faculty, staff and visitors to discontinue climbing trees or attaching slacklines or hammocks. The biggest challenge for the health of the trees comes from where hammocks and slacklines are attached to the tree trunks. This gear can damage tree bark and the inner cambium layers of the tree, which is not always visible, leading to long-term health consequences for the tree — such as cutting off nutrient and water transport and creating points of infection for pathogens and insects, according to Phiel.
The activities also can snap limbs or even the trunk of the tree, if it is in poor health or not mature. In addition, the understory planted around many of the trees found near Old Main and the HUB was being damaged due to the increased foot traffic. There also is a concern for the safety of people in hammocks who choose to rest high up in the trees.
There are more than 17,000 trees in the University Park campus canopy that serves as a living laboratory for several world-class educational programs. The University also has an all-encompassing tree-care plan identifying the policies, procedures and practices for establishing, protecting and maintaining trees on campus. The campus has been honored with the Tree Campus USA designation for several years running and has received global recognition as a Level II Accreditation by The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and The Morton Arboretum.