Natural area has rich history at Miami

Bishop Woods remains an important area of the campus

By Ellen Blevens

Framed by Upham Hall on the West end, the trees of Miami that Percy MacKaye wrote of so long ago are still thriving, as they have throughout the University’s history.

Considered by many to be an enigmatic area of campus, the virgin woods in the midst of red brick, Bishop Woodshas a rich history at Miami University.
Formerly known as the Lower Woods, Bishop Woods was renamed in honor of Miami’s first president, Robert Hamilton Bishop.

Some of the earliest pictures of the Bishop Woods, taken in the 1920s, show a wide area of forest, with a small shack in the midst of the trees. That shack was the studio for Miami University’s poet-in-residence, Percy MacKaye, where he penned many well-known works.

Former Miami University president Philip Shriver remembers some of the more significant moments concerning the history of Bishop Woods.
“The poet’s shack was torn down around 1929 or 1930,” he said. “Since World War II, the oval of trees, which is present today, was built up.”
Percy MacKaye's poetry studio

One reason for the formation of the oval was the new construction of Upham Hall, which had begun in 1948.
During his presidency at Miami, Shriver approved a proposal to put paths through the Bishop Woods area.

“We wanted the paths, as long as they were inconspicuous and didn’t disrupt too much plant life,”Shriver said.

In the 1980s, former University President Paul Pearson, an avid environmentalist, made Bishop Woods his pet project, after trees in the area began to die. Mowing the overgrowth was immediately halted to prevent people from walking across the woods and damaging the plant life.

There has always been an abundance of plant life in Bishop Woods, consisting of many different species of trees, all of which are present today.

“There’s oak, beech, ash, some maple, and hickory,” Bob Carey, Miami University horticulture manager, said.

Many University horticulturalists are concerned that some shrubs may now be choking the more established trees and bushes, including the old growth trees. In order to save the historic natural area, plans have been made to remove honeysuckle and wild mustard to prevent further damage to the trees in the area.

Students today walk along the same paths in Bishop Woods that students years ago trekked across. The University has changed drastically since those times, adding new buildings and renaming old ones. But Miami University’s passion for nature has not been lost in Bishop Woods, the virgin woods in the midst of red brick.

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