Ashley Schiff Park Preserve


Natural History
An overview of the forces that have shaped the preserve, from the geological movements that created the land to the plants and animals that have made a home there...
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The Man
A brief overview of Dr. Ashley Schiff, his life, his contribution to this institution, his students and the lasting legacy of his work...
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The Dedication
How a forest preserve was chosen, how it is related to the memory of Dr. Schiff, and the ceremony in which it was set aside...
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Changes to the Preserve
The recent history of the preserve, what has happened to it since it was dedicated, and what it faces in the future…
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Natural History
Some 20,000 years ago a glacier advancing from the north crossed through the area and formed what is now the Stony Brook campus. The presence of boulders strewn throughout the campus, called erratics, are evidence of this glacial advance through the area.

As it covered what is now the campus, it pushed the underlying sediments in a manner similar to the pushing of a rug in a process known as glaciotectonics. This resulted in the formation of east-west ridges and valleys that are well exposed in the Ashley Schiff Preserve. There they form a miniature version of the Allegheny Mountains.

Human activities also played a role in the preserve. Up until 80 to 100 years ago, it was cultivated as farming land. Since it was abandoned as farmland it has regrown into a well developed forest.

For more information on glaciotectonics click here

Information on the natural history of the preserve provided by Drs. Gilbert Hanson and Glenn Richard of Stony Brook University’s Department of Geosciences
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The Man
Ashley Schiff (1932-1969) was a popular professor of political science who joined Stony Brook University in 1965. He was deeply respected among students for being accessible, open-minded, “brutally honest”, and committed to the practice and promotion of integrity within the university community.

Photograph of Dr. Ashley Schiff, courtesy of the Schiff family
Professor Schiff was an early conservationist and expert on the politics of forest management (Ashley Schiff, Fire and Water - Scientific Heresy in the Forest Service, Harvard University Press, 1962). Upon learning that a bulldozer was about to topple the tallest conifer on campus, he quietly chained himself to the threatened tree, and thereby became a legend.

In those early years of Stony Brook, the university experience included a residential college program. Working in close conjunction with faculty advisers and a full time program coordinator, student representatives created a “college program”, within each dormitory to integrate residential and academic life, ideally to provide a rich and supportive living and learning environment.

As the master of Cardozo College, Schiff was renowned for his ceaseless work outside of class to improve undergraduate life. He was credited with providing the Cardozo residents “with a seemingly unending flow of celebrity guest visitors, with a calendar of educational events unmatched by any of Stony Brook's twenty other residential colleges” (Statesman, October 3, 1969, page 1).

When the sea of mud, which epitomized the campus environment, threatened to engulf the newly installed Roth Pond in front of Cardozo, Schiff donated -- and he and students planted -- azaleas along its eroded banks. This was intended as a gift to the university, and, equally important, as an example to the college administration.

In the early fall of 1969, Dr. Ashley Schiff died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 37, leaving behind a wife and young family. His death shocked the young Stony Brook community, already seasoned to anti-war marches, intrusive drug raids, and serious student activism.

Five hundred students attended Schiff's funeral service, held beneath a beautiful linden tree near the campus. The campus spoke from its heart in a two-page memoriam in the student newspaper, The Statesman, entitled: The Passing of a Friend:

"...Seems the good they die young...", wrote the editor;

"Not only was there always something going on at Cardozo College, but what was going on was always worthwhile";

"He had a genuine, humane smile, was a gentleman, a human being who cared about people...";

"When named one of the five best teachers by the class of '68, Schiff wept...";

"The students loved him, because they learned from him, and they learned from him because he combined his scholarship and his humanity with great integrity".

For more information read:
The Ashley Schiff Forest Preserve - A Stony Brook Legacy,
The Statesman: The Passing of a Friend, and
An Historical Overview of the Preserve
Ashley Schiff 1932 – 1969
these are also available in the documents page.

Information on the history of Dr. Ashley Schiff provided by George S. Locker, Alumnus of the class of 1971.
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The Dedication
Resisting administration offers to name a building after their beloved professor, students organized to formulate a more appropriate memorial. They did not have far to look..
Photograph of former Secretery of State Stewart Udall, courtesy of the US Department of the Interior

Just south of Cardozo College was a large chunk of woodland, untouched by the new Tabler Dorms, and surrounded by nothing but Nicolls Rd and the South Loop Road. Schiff had a tradition of taking new students walking there each September. He loved the forest.

What more fitting memorial to the early scholar of forest management than a forever-wild nature preserve within the campus itself? Support for the proposal grew rapidly, and in a week's time, President John Toll committed the University to creation of the preserve.
Photograph of former SUNY Stony Brook President John S. Toll, courtesy of Washington College

In 1970, the Ashley Schiff Nature Preserve was dedicated at a public ceremony by the former United States Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall. It was plotted and surveyed (28.2 acres), and identifying signs were placed that asked visitors to "Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints".

President John Toll exclaimed: "...today we dedicate a wilderness preserve to the memory of Ashley Schiff, where future generations at Stony Brook can learn to share his appreciation of nature. .... Of all the tributes we might pay him, I believe this is the one that would have touched him most, and best carries forward his special contributions to Stony Brook".

for more information on the dedication read:
The Ashley Schiff Forest Preserve - A Stony Brook Legacy,
Udall to Dedicate Woodland to Prof,
Natural Sanctuary To Honor Dr. Schiff,
John S. Toll's Speech In Tribute To Ashley Schiff, and
An Historical Overview of the Preserve these are also available in the documents page.

Information on the dedication of the Ashley Schiff preserve provided by George S. Locker, Alumnus of the class of 1971.
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Changes to the Preserve
On the newly growing south campus, parts of Nassau and Suffolk Hall were built within the boundaries of the Preserve. The South Loop road was altered and widened, and the famous conifer tree that Ashley had saved was felled without notice.

Time passed. The signs disappeared. Students and faculty who knew Schiff moved on, and the existence of the Schiff Preserve slipped from public awareness. Campus maps did not show it.

In 1986, controversial plans to lease university land for construction of a privately owned conference center and 150-room hotel (which later fell through) threatened to slice a piece from the Preserve.

An updated survey conducted in 1998 revealed that the Schiff Preserve was 26.6 acres, a loss of 1.6 acres, or 6% of preserve land (South Campus Site Map, June 1998.).

In spring 2001, aware that the Ashley Schiff Forest Preserve enjoyed no formal legal protection, concerned faculty and alumni brought these concerns to the attention of the University Senate and administration officials. The Senate sought to have the Schiff Preserve placed into an irrevocable forever-wild status. In May 2001, the University Senate passed a motion without dissent that the forested lands on campus be designated as "University Living Treasures".

In meetings with university officials, the Senate Environment committee, alumni, community leaders, Mrs. Dorothy Schiff (Ashley 's widow) and State Legislator Steve Englebright advocated permanent protection for the preserve (which could be via a private or state land trust).

As a result of these efforts, The Schiff Preserve is now identified on the campus map. It is discussed in official university planning documents. The Preserve has been marked and denoted by several distinctive public signs. Most importantly, President Kenny has assured the Senate that the Schiff Preserve will not be touched during her leadership.

for more information on the dedication read:
The Ashley Schiff Forest Preserve - A Stony Brook Legacy and
An Historical Overview of the Preserve
these are also available in the documents page.

Information provided by George S. Locker, Alumnus of the class of 1971.
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