College of the Atlantic student Sage Fuller on top of "Mount COA," a pile dirt from the college's north lawn, which was dug up to construct the new Center of Human Ecology building. At left, wasps made their home near the base of the western side of the mound. A sign now marks the wasp nest. ISLANDER PHOTO BY BECKY PRITCHARD

New ‘mountain’ makes perfect classroom

BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island’s volcanic history may well be in the past, but a new mountain just popped up last summer on the College of the Atlantic COA campus.

The accidental result of building construction, the “mountain” quickly became a favorite spot on campus, both as a classroom and recreation area.

According to Millard Dority, director of campus planning, the mound of dirt was dug up from the north lawn on campus in the construction process for the new Center of Human Ecology.

“Usually in most construction projects, we would have it hauled off campus,” Dority said of the dirt. But due to the presence of red ants on campus, the planning and building committee decided to leave the dirt onsite.

New England aster is one of the remnants of an old wildflower garden that sprouted on the side of the “mountain.” PHOTO COURTESY OF SAGE FULLER

As crews piled up rich dirt and loam on a field near the dormitories last summer, plants began to sprout.

This fall, the prevalence of plants caught the interest of Professor Suzanne Morse and students in her class on weed ecology, who had been collecting weed samples across campus for identification.

The huge dirt pile, dubbed “Mount COA” or the “COA hill,” became their new study site, according to Sage Fuller, a student in Morse’s class.

“It’s a totally interesting space because it’s just left to its own devices,” said Fuller. “It shows how spaces can grow if you just leave them alone. In a lot of other colleges, this would never happen.”

Students have identified more than 40 different species of plants, said Fuller, who uses plural pronouns.

In addition to common weeds such as clover, crab grass, plantains, yarrow, dandelion and hawkweed, they have also identified rarer samples from a dug-up wildflower garden, including lobelia and New England aster.

“Things get really big,” Fuller said. “Usually people don’t let weeds stay for that long. If this was flat, then it most likely would be mowed.”

Instead, it’s a perfect weed laboratory.

Fuller, who is doing an independent study of the hill, documented a prevalence of crab grass on the north side, and clover on the south side. “We don’t know why that is,” Fuller said, but it could have to do with one half being older than the other half, as the dirt got piled up in stages.

They also noted that the new hill has attracted some wildlife. Some dock that was growing near the summit had its leaves chewed off by deer, who also left their scat on the hill. “So we know deer have been to the top, but we haven’t seen them,” they said.

A wasp nest was found near the base of the west side of the hill. Other than that, people are the most common wildlife to make use of the college’s new mountain habitat.

When not studying weed ecology, students do homework and play Frisbee on the pile. There is much anticipation of sledding this winter.

The hill is all the more special, knowing it is temporary. When asked how long Mount COA would remain on campus, Dority answered, “that’s a very good question. I can guarantee you it’s not going to stay forever.”

However, he added, given the interest in it, it will likely stay up another “year or so” before being graded into an athletic field.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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