Despite its location in the fourth-largest city in the United States, the Rice campus manages to host a treasure trove of underutilized natural spaces. While 96 percent of the 58 people we surveyed have seen the Harris Gully Natural Area, only about 34 percent of students knew the area’s name. When asked their opinions on the area, students gave fairly polarizing responses. We got about as many positive comments (“I love it when it has the sunflowers and bluebonnets”) as we did negative (“It’s weedy and kind of gross looking”). Despite the participants’ opinions on the aesthetics of the area, the majority of Rice students don’t know why we chose to preserve the Harris Gully Natural Area.
When it rains on campus, several students will jokingly acknowledge the Harris Gully Natural Area as “Swamp Rice” or call it a lake. Though this reserve may look like a body of water during rainy weather, it is really a pocket prairie in the middle of campus. According to Cassidy Johnson, a professor in biosciences, the Harris Gully Natural Area serves as a detention basin. Not only does the reserve help with water retention on campus, it also provides a glimpse into the history of the campus as well as the larger Houston area. The name of the reserve says it all. The grassy area students pass by quite frequently was once a gully filled with water. Today, prairies are considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States, and Rice should be considered fortunate to have retained a pocket-sized prairie ecosystem right on campus.
If students were more aware of this natural reserve we could define the future potential of the area. Preserving the prairie ecosystem could be beneficial to the university as it would allow students to use this area as an educational environment, whether through ecology and evolutionary biology labs, civil engineering assignments or art projects. From the results of the survey conducted, we noticed several students showed personal interest in using this area, ranging from recreation to bettering student health. As Johnson puts it, “This generation of students has realized the value of our environment and has a good understanding in regards to the positive impact that green spaces have on people living in urban areas.” Whether as a frisbee golf field, picnic area or just a place for some casual reading, if students could use this reserve to relieve some stress, the Harris Gully Natural Area would prove as a great resource to not only the students, but also to the university.
Rice students deserve a place to better connect with nature. While the beauty of campus cannot be understated, one can sit or study wholly surrounded by wildlife in very few places. The Harris Gully Natural Area is not a manicured lawn or park, it is an area of underappreciated natural beauty. As long as it flies under the radar, a great disservice is being done to the students of Rice.