Within the cozy confines of the dimly-lit dining room of the Three Village Inn, members of the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve gathered for their first annual board meeting. Between sips of white wine and careful bites of goat cheese and jam, the members not only celebrated the life of a man that they admired, but the birthday of his widowed wife as well, unbeknownst to Dorothy Schiff until Board President Paul Siegel made his opening announcements. As smile spread across Schiff’s face as the members of the board raised their glasses in a toast—recognition of another year completed and the prospect of the future.
“The preserve is something that has been a part of Stony Brook history – it has been a connection that goes back 50 years,” Siegel said. “We are forever wild.”
The Ashley Schiff Park Preserve is a 26-acre stretch of woodland located between the Roth Quad and the Marine Sciences building at Stony Brook University. The park was established as a protected preserve in 1970 in remembrance of former Stony Brook Associate Professor of Political Science Ashley Schiff, who died unexpectedly at age 37 in 1969.
Ashley Schiff was a noted naturalist, published author and through his advocacy, created a name for himself at Stony Brook University. In 1965, when Schiff became a faculty member at Stony Brook, the campus was still devoid of proper roads – much of the campus consisted of muddy passageways that lead from the dorms to the academic mall. Schiff took initiative to beautify the campus by recruiting students to plant foliage around Roth Pond and strengthening campus pride as overseer of Roth’s Cardozo College.
“He was seriously devoted to the environment when it wasn’t the popular thing to do,” widow Dorothy Schiff said. “He did most of his protesting by himself.”
One of Schiff’s more outrageous stunts was when he defiantly chained himself to a tree on campus in protest of knocking it down. Due to Schiff’s efforts, the tree was left untouched and lived the rest of its life without disturbance. The tree, formerly the tallest conifer on campus, has since been removed upon its death, but its legacy lives on.
The crusade to keep the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve untouched has been relatively successful since its invocation in 1970. Even as the rest of the campus landscape evolved, the woodlands remained. However, the land is not legally protected — Stony Brook University is state-owned land and is subject to change if the Stony Brook administration deems it necessary. According to Friends of Ashley Schiff group member Malcolm Bowman, initiatives have been made to have the area recognized as a state park before former Stony Brook president Shirley Kenney retired, but no formal plans have been established in compliance with President Stanley.
“You can go into the preserve and not hear any traffic from Nicholls Road,” Arthur Shertzer, Stony Brook faculty and group member, said. “It’s incredible coming from a campus as urbanized as Stony Brook University.”
Now, the Friends of Ashley Schiff look towards the future with the hope of raising awareness and furthering their cause. A more immediate goal they have is to offer scholarships to Stony Brook students – a past tradition, but something they haven’t been able to do for the past two years because of lack of applicants.
“It’s our goal to raise the level of consciousness [about the preserve] of the students and faculty,” Bowman said. “We are the guardians of the forest.”