Volume 97 Issue 6 News

Sparks farm given to Juniata College for educational opportunities

by Taylor Smallwood

In December, Juniata College was given a 375-acre plot of land along the Juniata River to be utilized for educational and recreational purposes.

The land, titled “Camp No-dse-wa-ope,” which means “quiet heart,” was donated by Jack and Carolyn Sparks, in memory of their sons Scott Douglas Sparks and Todd Gardner Sparks.

The farm has been connected to the Sparks family since 1794 and in their immediate family since 1913. Jack and Carolyn Sparks purchased the land in 1970.

After seeing the field station, the Sparks’ chose Juniata College as the recipient for the land. They began speaking with Juniata in February of 2015, and the gift was finalized in December.

The Sparks’ said, “The decision to gift the farm property was one that we considered for many years. Somewhat bittersweet letting (it) go, but when Juniata College committed to the long term use of the property, the decision appeared to be a perfect fit.”

The Sparks’ wanted the land to be used for educational purposes. “As retired educators, we have always felt that education involves more than ‘book learning.’ We are excited to have students appreciate a ‘hands-on’ learning experience. It is our hope that other will learn to appreciate and understand how we depend on each other and the natural surroundings of our earth and universe to survive,” said the Sparks.

Juniata’s plan for fulfilling the wishes of the donors is to keep the property in its current state. “We want to keep the property pretty pristine and as-is, as opposed to building a lot of structures out there,” said Rob Yelnosky, vice president for finance and operations at Juniata College. “This property offers us a unique opportunity. It’s not going to be developed as it is, and hopefully be a place people can go to and appreciate nature.”

Juniata wants the land to be utilized by a variety of people and to be used for a variety of purposes. Yelnosky said, “The opportunities that it is going to provide students and faculty and staff with in terms of a place to not only do academic things but opportunities to relax and enjoy the outdoors in a different environment. The possibilities are endless.”

Executive Director of the Raystown Field Station and Chair of the Earth & Environmental Science Department Dennis Johnson is currently creating a GIS map of the property and sees the property’s potential. “I see a wide range of uses that really gives us an opportunity to study everything from the sciences and the arts to the humanities,” said Johnson.

Recreationally, there are plans to have a bike trail and opportunities for kayaking, fishing, hiking and more. Yelnosky said, “If we’ve been successful, then all of our students will have the opportunity and the broader community will have some opportunities to enjoy this.”

Assistant Professor of Biology Gina Lamendella said, “There is a plethora of opportunities, not just for science and research, but across the disciplines, which is the core of what we do here at Juniata.”

A few Juniata professors and even students have already used the land. Lamendella has worked individually at the farm and has had a class complete a water quality project. The class took sample from different locations where land was used for different purposes.

During the project, the Sparks’ interacted with the students. Jack Sparks spent some of the time educating the students on the land. “My students were just so impressed by his historical and scientific perspective of that property,” said Lamendella.

Senior Kate Sabey was one of the students who participated in this project. “It was really valuable to have someone that worked the land and knows that kind of stuff when you’re performing studies,” said Sabey.

The Sparks’ were involved with the project even after the sampling at the farm. The two were invited to the class’s poster presentation of the results.

Lamendella said, “I think it makes for a good story in terms of getting the farm back to a place where it’s being used for educational purposes, and I think that’s really the heart of all of this. They want to make sure the property is being used appropriately.”

The students gave feedback after their project at the Sparks farm. “They really liked being a part of something really hands-on and sort of in their own backyard, being able to do these types of studies in a place that’s sort of close to their hearts, I think it had a higher impact and higher value for them,” said Lamendella.

“We were very excited to go out and meet the Sparks’ and be able to interact with them. That was a very valuable experience that I think many Juniatians in the future will be able to take advantage of and enjoy,” said Sabey.

Since the gift is relatively new to Juniata, the practical planning has just begun. “It’s going to be ongoing. This year is more about assessing opportunities and prioritizing some things and aligning resources. Next year is when we really start to take advantage of it,” said Yelnosky. Some inbound programs might take place at the farm this coming fall.

“The vision is just to make sure that we are maximizing the potential of this property. I think we’ll get there. I think it’s really going to offer unique experience for Juniata students currently and future Juniata students. I think the 5-10 year potential is pretty significant,” said Lamendella.

The College is thankful for the donation. Yelnosky said, “For someone to trust you enough to give you something like that, it’s an incredible gift and an opportunity we’re thankful for.”

Johnson said, “What makes it really special to me is not only the history of the land, but how much it means to them and for them to trust us to take it.”

“It takes a really special group of people to donate something that has been theirs for decades. I look forward to seeing what the future holds and I really just also want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Sparks from the bottom of my heart for giving myself and my students this opportunity, because it’s certainly an unparalleled opportunity that I never thought I’d be involved in,” said Lamendella.

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