Restoring Middle Path
Kenyon investigates a future Middle Path makeover with stabilized gravel that aims to improve universal accessibility.
Research into the restoration of Middle Path to improve universal accessibility took a step forward this summer with the construction of three 25-foot trial walkways near Old Kenyon and Olin and Chalmers libraries.
The trial paths are not part of Middle Path, but they are examples of stabilized gravel, achieved through the use of an organic, plant-based product that is water-permeable. The trial paths will feature different combinations of types of gravel.
“We’re just trying to see which blend will match most closely the colors and textures of the existing path and then test the materials over a year,” Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said. “We want to see how they weather and perform with regular use.” The College is eager to hear feedback from alumni and community members about the look, feel, and sound of the trial paths.
Problems with universal accessibility and maintenance triggered interest in the restoration of Middle Path, which was established in 1842 from Wiggin Street to Old Kenyon and extended to Bexley Hall in 1860. In March 2009, fifty-seven faculty members sent a resolution to the Board of Trustees, urging that Middle Path be made more accessible.
The Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees decided to take a comprehensive look at College landscape issues, including Middle Path, and hired Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Landscape Architects of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The firm developed the Kenyon College Landscape Master Plan with the help of a steering committee that includes thirteen people representing the administration, alumni, faculty, staff, and the village of Gambier. “We’ve been working on this for fourteen months,” Kohlman said, noting that the process has been deliberate and thorough.
The architects have worked on the Harvard Yard restoration, redesign of Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House, and renovation of North Grant Park in Chicago, among many other projects.
Improvements to Middle Path are necessary, said Thomas R. Sant ’65, emeritus trustee and a member of the steering committee. “The state of the path is pretty bad,” he said. His initial concern that the consultants might not fully realize the significance of the path has been allayed. “I’ve been really impressed with them. I think they’ve come up with a viable solution. I think they’re going to get it right.”
In their report, the consultants said, “The goal for Middle Path surfacing is to find a formula or blend of aggregate that can be stabilized and is accessible for wheelchairs but that also maintains the textural, aural, and visual qualities of the existing path.”
Local gravel now in use on the path does not have the right shape to mesh with the stabilizing product, so gravel from elsewhere in Ohio and from Wisconsin is being considered, Kohlman said. A six-inch base layer of compacted gravel will be topped by a four-inch layer of the stabilized gravel. Surface gravel will gradually loosen and the edges will not be framed, but the path should maintain a level plane.
If restoration is approved, care will be taken not to harm the trees that create the fetching canopy over the path. The consultants have emphasized the importance of the tree canopy, and trench work and core samples indicate that tree roots have avoided the hard-packed depths of the path.
Many trees, particularly along the section of the path between Brooklyn Street and Bexley Hall, are in fair or poor condition, according to the landscape architects. Swales that collect water in that area are a hazard to the Norway maples there, and the consultants recommend a gradual transition to a different species and improved drainage. The soil along the path in the village center should be improved for tree health and the failing hackberry trees there should gradually be replaced. According to the report from the consultants, the advanced age of many trees along the full length of the path indicates the need for a comprehensive management plan and careful selection of species “to maintain and strengthen the essential character of Middle Path.”
The full restoration of the path, if approved, is a three-year project.
Keeping Middle Path functional for everyone is the priority, said Erin F. Salva ’79, coordinator of disability services. “Middle Path is obviously the symbolic center of the campus,” she said. “We connect with each other there.” And it’s unfair and discouraging for those people who use wheelchairs or motorized scooters if the condition of the path makes moving around the campus difficult, she said.
Most people, she said, will find a more stable surface to be “a great improvement.”
As the research project to sustain the historic integrity of Middle Path moves forward, members of the Kenyon community are encouraged to send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.