“A Walk on the Wild Side” is indeed a perfect name for Friday’s Reunion Weekend excursion to the HWS Henry Hanley Biological Preserve. With no groomed trails and a plethora of wildlife, a walk through the nature preserve, led by Professor of Biology Jim Ryan, provided the perfect opportunity for alums to reconnect with their alma mater.
Henry Hanley Biological Preserve contains 110 acres of land, including fields, ponds, and forests. HWS acquired the reserve in 1989, purchasing it after Henry Hanley, a nearby farmer and wildlife enthusiast, passed away. Now used for research, Hanley dug numerous ponds because of his interest in ducks and waterfowl. Several HWS faculty members work with students during the academic year performing research and lab field work at the preserve.
“It’s easy to lose track of time out here. We visit pretty much every week in the fall and spring,” says Ryan who specializes in mammalian ecology and evolution. Ryan received an M.S. in biological sciences from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Massachusetts. He has studied ultraviolet vision in bats and written a textbook on mammalogy.
While hiking through the preserve, Ryan pointed out various flora and fauna, including foam nests where beetles lay their eggs and duckweed accumulating on a pond. In addition, once into the deciduous forest, Ryan began upturning fallen logs on an impromptu hunt for tiger salamanders.
During the walk, Moira Croghan ’75 of Berryville, Va., and Mickey Liebling ’65 of Florence, Ore., bonded over their memories of Biology Professor Richard A. Ryan, who taught at HWS from 1952-1987. Current professor Jim Ryan (no relation) replaced him 23 years ago.
“I have fond memories of taking ornithology with Dick Ryan,” recalls Croghan ‘75, an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast.
In fact, the field classroom at the entrance to Henry Hanley Biological Preserve is named in honor of Professor Richard Ryan, and R.A. Ryan Field Lab hosts many HWS science students each semester.
The preserve provides a home for numerous species including deer, foxes, hawks, and salamanders, and the waist-high grass and unblazed trails provided a real sense of untouched beauty. The lack of groomed trails offers students the opportunity to study plant and animal ecology in its natural form, and alumni reconnected with their interest in environmental science all while visiting with classmates. As they remembered past teachers, alumni also recalled their time at HWS clearly.
“I had no hesitation in approaching people who were in senior positions here. It really speaks to the close relationships and respect between students and teachers,” says Liebling ’65.
In looking to the future of the Hanley nature preserve, Ryan explained his desire to bring the preserve to a wider audience. “There are a lot of things I could envision down the road, especially in terms of community outreach,” says Ryan, “I feel very fortunate I have a place like this to take my students.”