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May 2, 2008

Smith Establishes Field Station for Environmental Study

The 200-acre Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in Whately offers educational opportunities in a variety of areas, such as meteorology, air quality, ecology, land use and hydrology.

NORTHAMTPON, Mass. – Smith College recently dedicated a 200-acre tract of woodland nestled amid the farms of nearby Whately as a living laboratory for teaching and conducting research about the environment.

MacLeish Field Station

MacLeish Field Station

Acquired by the college in the 1970s, the area is now named the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in recognition of the MacLeishes, who are passionate environmentalists and friends of former Smith College President Jill Ker Conway. Conway’s gift supports the programming at the field station.

Smith dedicated the site to the late Ada MacLeish, a musician, and her husband the late Archibald MacLeish, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, at a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, which was attended by the couple’s son William MacLeish. (Read remarks by Alexandra Webster '08, who has conducted extensive research at the station.)

Located about a dozen miles from the college’s Northampton campus, at the end of Poplar Hill Road, the MacLeish Field Station will serve as a readily accessible site for class visits and for student-faculty research projects. It has already been used for a number of courses in the college’s Environmental Science and Policy Program.

Originally purchased as an observatory site for the astronomy department, the property features two buildings – an astronomy observatory and support building – but has not been used regularly.

Ada MacLeish
Ada MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish
Click images to enlarge

The environmental features of the field station provide ample fodder for study. The western boundary abuts a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the City of Northampton, offering students the opportunity to investigate how local land use and the area’s hydrology, geochemistry and ecology interact to determine the quality of water that comes out of their campus taps.

The location of the site—amid a patchwork of protected land and farmland making up one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the state—makes it appealing to conservation groups, land trusts and private land owners who would like to preserve additional land. This working model of political, social and economic complexities associated with land use make the site a learning opportunity for students pursuing policy issues.

Further, town records provide a historical record of when parcels on the Whately property and in the surrounding area were logged over the past century, offering students the ability to track changes in the land and document forest recovery over time.

Among the initial plans for the MacLeish Field Station are improving the existing support building to create a functional classroom laboratory, establishing environmental sampling and observation stations and characterizing the property using spatial analysis technology.

In addition, an atmospheric sampling tower next to the building is already providing data about air quality and pollution as part of a long-term regional atmospheric monitoring project.

The Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station is envisioned to be one opportunity available through the college’s planned Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability (CEEDS). The CEEDS is planned to foster and support imaginative and forward-thinking collaborations that bridge the natural and social sciences, the arts and humanities, and engineering to address questions and problems related to the environment.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. By linking the power of the liberal arts to excellence in research and scholarship, Smith is developing leaders for society’s challenges. Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country, enrolling 2,600 students from nearly every state and 61 other countries.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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