Rewilding Middlebury

The Vermont campus of Middlebury College is a managed landscape consisting of few species – primarily open lawn and mature canopy trees. This environment is leftover from archaic and colonial institutional landscape ideals, failing to act in stewardship to the landscape and animals who share this land, to create spaces for community engagement with the natural world, and to reflect the college’s climate commitments as outlined in Energy 2028. 

The following proposal in lawn reduction aims to combat these things by:

  • Creating an intentionally managed landscape that reflects college ideals in environmental stewardship 
  • Reducing emissions waste from lawn mowing:
    • We currently mow 97 acres, excluding athletic turf, for approximately 1,920 hours a year. This costs the College ~$12,000 per year in fuel, and annually emits 20 tons of carbon and 72 ½ tons of hydrocarbon and nitrous oxide (air pollution). 
  • Creating habitats for pollinators and other species who share this land.
    • Our large lawns take away from species diversity, being actively harmful to pollinators, invertebrates, fungi, and birds. 
  • Allowing the beauty of Vermont to show through our landscaping practices for all community members to share in, engage with, and learn from. 

Two students in the Sustainability Solutions Lab, Aria Bowden ‘23 and SJ O’Connor ‘24, spent the summer of 2022 creating a lawn reduction proposal relating to Middlebury’s Energy 2028 goals. It features a  28% reduction in lawns mowed, meeting the Energy 2028 goal of reducing energy consumption on campus by 25% , while at the same time increasing critical ecological habitats lacking on our grounds at present.

Wildflower Planting

  • The proposal calls for 7 ‘Landcover Types’ in the landscape. This can be thought of as 7 new management plans for currently-mowed areas of campus.
    • Highly-trafficked areas will stay ‘High Performance Lawn’ – such as the commencement quad and Battell Beach. 
    • Other areas will be ‘Park Lawn’ – areas such as below the Chapel and The Davis Family Library Quad. They will see a gradual reduction in maintenance, mowing on a more prescriptive basis rather than our current weekly cycle. 
    • Some areas will be converted into ‘Rough Lawn’, where they will be mowed regularly until commencement, then only mown monthly.
    • Large areas of lawn will become ‘Native Fescue Areas’. New techniques in turf maintenance make these areas more appealing and sustainable than our first ‘No-Mow Zones’. Non-native grasses and weeds are removed, and native fescue grows to full height and mown once at the end of the year. Other new cover types include ‘Clover Lawns’ and ‘Pollinator Plantings’
    • Lastly, ‘Clayplain Forest Plantings’ will use native trees, shrubs and perennials to mimic the natural Champlain Valley ecosystem and bring more species diversity to campus.

This process will begin with the implementation of a 2 year pilot plan in the Library quad and surrounding areas, trialing all landcover types. Two large sections of lawn will be converted into Native Fescue areas, and two smaller sections south of the Main Library will be Microclover. One section of lawn north of Axinn will have lawn removed and replanted into native wildflower habitat, and finally one section around an existing stormwater treatment swale will be replanted into Clayplain Forest trees.

Library Quad Map of future Cover Types

To mow less and to intentionally manage our landscape with beautiful and natural habitats would not only serve the campus’ educational mission, but would also create a regenerative ecological model for the greater community. Middlebury strives to be a leader in ecological stewardship for its community and for other institutions of higher education, so why not start with the land itself?

Questions or feedback can be directed to Tim Parsons, and for more information please visit .