For years, a hike to Walker Pond was a secretive thrill for Kenyon students. Now the sale of the land back to the College will give students full access to study the pond and its wetland ecosystem.
The pond and about 40 surrounding acres northwest of Gambier were sold from Hal Walker ’57 to the Philander Chase Conservancy this summer for $342,000.
“This expands the kind of habitats that the students can study. The Brown Family Environmental Center doesn’t have a standing water feature like this,” said Director of Green Initiatives David Heithaus ’99.
The pond in the woods just north of the Franklin Miller Observatory has plenty of animal traffic: frogs dart across the pond like skipping stones, footprints show raccoon activity in the mud at the pond’s edge, and grass is matted from deer sleeping by the pond overnight. This land purchase adds to the lands protected by the College and the conservancy in the valley west of Gambier, including Wolf Run, a tributary of the Kokosing River.
“Any time you can add continuous land to what you have already preserved, then you are adding to the overall protection of wildlife,” Heithaus said. “If someone had bought this land and developed it, there would be a direct threat to the health of the Kokosing.”
Heithaus said a public hiking trail could eventually be extended to the pond from the existing hiking trails maintained in the valley between Route 229 and New Gambier Road as part of the Brown Family Environmental Center.
One family has owned the acreage around the pond since it was sold from the College’s original 8,000 acres, purchased by Kenyon’s founder and first president, Philander Chase. Lemuel Holmes bought about 100 acres from the College in 1837 and bought other land from the College in 1856 and 1857. Walker is descended from Holmes.
“I feel very comfortable with the sale,” Walker said. “The catalytic agent was that none of our three children were interested in the land, but all were in favor of preserving it under the auspices of the Philander Chase Conservancy.”
The pond and a stand of pine trees just west of it were installed by the federal Civilian Conservation Corps program that employed young people during the Great Depression. The property has been called Woodbine Farm for a century and was once notable for its sheep, which Walker’s grandfather herded through Gambier to the train depot on the south side of the Hill.
John A. Woollam ’61 H’08 — a longtime trustee of the Philander Chase Conservancy and a major donor of private support for it — contributed the funds to buy the Walkers’ land. The conservancy’s new office on Gaskin Avenue is named for Woollam, the George Holmes Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Woollam founded the J.A. Woollam Company, which has worldwide sales in scientific measurement devices and software.
Of the 5,300 acres that the conservancy has protected, Woollam has been directly involved in conserving more than 1,800 acres, said Lisa Schott ’80, managing director of the land trust.
The Philander Chase Conservancy was founded in 2000 to encourage the preservation of working farmland, woods and wetlands around Gambier. The conservancy can purchase land outright, but most of its work is providing technical assistance and financial support to private landowners in the purchase of conservation and agricultural easements that restrict development.
The purchase of the Walker property is an example of both: The deed agreement says there will be no dredging of the pond, no dock built at the pond and no roadway extended to the pond. The land agreement does allow for a small educational building to be placed somewhere on the 40 acres, but there are no immediate plans for that, Schott said.