Third-Century Plan Update — November 2021

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The beauty of the Colgate campus plays an important part in the University’s mission. The campus inspires students, faculty, and staff, and the quality of our environs reflects our aspirations and values. As with all aspects of the University, we must steward the beauty of this campus with care and continuously seek its enhancement.

I write today, during this Thanksgiving week, to share with the Colgate community plans to restore and renew two iconic parts of the Colgate campus: Oak Drive and Willow Path. These two landmarks are integral to the campus, and it is important that members of the alumni community know of their status.

The Restoration and Expansion of Oak Drive

Oak Drive Through the Years

Fifty-eight northern red oaks currently line Colgate’s Oak Drive. Many of these trees have lived more than 100 years — several of these trees witnessed Colgate’s centennial in 1919 as well as its bicentennial in 2019. They have welcomed generations of students, faculty, staff, friends, and family to Colgate. They form a striking entrance to a major university.

Proceeding up Oak Drive today, however, you will see considerable gaps where, through the years, trees have fallen but were not replaced. You will also see several trees that are in significant decline due to their age, presenting a hazard to the members of the campus community. Arborists recently identified eight large oaks that are at the end of their normal life spans along the road. As part of a long-term renewal of this entrance to the campus, and in the interest of safety, we will remove these eight trees along Oak Drive during the next several weeks.

As many Colgate alumni know, Oak Drive was the site of a tragic car accident that occurred 21 years ago. One of the trees to be removed is that which was at the site of the accident. We are in contact with the families of the victims as well as others affected by the tragedy to share our restoration plans and to offer an opportunity for them to visit the site before and during this renewal project. Wood from that particular tree will be turned into benches that will be placed in the parklands around Payne Creek. The memorial plaques on the site will be restored and reinstalled.

It is a difficult thing to see a large tree come down and more difficult still to see several removed from a campus. The only response, of course, is to plant new trees. We will do so in a way that not only restores Oak Drive to its original design, but also expands and enhances it.

This coming spring we will plant 61 new trees both on Oak Drive and in nearby areas:

  • We will fill all the gaps in Oak Drive and extend the planting of the oak trees all the way to Broad Street with 21 new northern red oaks;
  • We will line the access road that runs off Oak Drive toward Hamilton Street with new trees of various varieties; and
  • We will establish a new grove of shade trees on the hillsides below Merrill House.

The updated Oak Drive will also incorporate new lighting and new sidewalks to better connect the campus to the Village of Hamilton and to create a welcoming approach to Colgate.

Willow Path Restoration

Willow Path Through the Years

Seventy trees currently line Colgate’s Willow Path. The path was originally planted at the turn of the 20th century by Prof. James Taylor, for whom Taylor Lake is named. None of Professor Taylor’s original trees remain. Between 1989 and 1991, the University replanted Willow Path using Coral Bark Willows — trees that have an expected life of 40 years.

In recent months, several of the trees have started to fail as they approach the end of their lifespan. Much as we are restoring Oak Drive, we will also begin restoration of Willow Path this coming spring. We are in contact with arborists to help guide this long-term project.

In the meantime, the University will prune and cable the canopies of the willow trees as necessary. We will remove those that either are failing or are not in keeping with the original intent of the walkway. And Colgate will work with experts to source new willow trees so that we are prepared to replant the proper variety, of an adequate size, when the time comes.

We will continue to offer opportunities for you to stay informed about these and other campus projects. As you come back to campus over the next few years, you will see these projects unfold, and I hope they bring you both satisfaction and delight.

Colgate has embarked upon a significant moment in its own transformation, guided by the Third-Century Plan. Fittingly, at a time of year when we pause to show gratitude, I thank you for helping to make these changes possible.


Brian W. Casey

Willow Path at night