By Rachel West – Managing Editor
A Centre student is teaming up with Centre professors and administrators to spearhead a project in an attempt to rediscover the Sinking Spring area of campus. The Sinking Spring, though few students know it as such, is the trench along West Main Street that features a small stream with a bridge, trees, and a stone bench.
Sophomore Gray Whitsett, Chair of the Student Government Association (SGA) Campus Improvements Committee, became interested in the Sinking Spring when he was on Centre’s campus as a high school student taking part in the Governor’s Scholars Program. “I thought this could be a really neat little area of campus, but it seems like it had kind of become just a little swamp. That always left a bad taste in my mouth,” Whitsett said.
Thus, when Whitsett became the Chair of the Campus Improvements Committee, he knew that he wanted to somehow “rediscover” the Sinking Spring area. “I knew it would be really ambitious, but it would be something really meaningful to try to change on campus. It’s lasting and visible,” he said.
Whitsett sought out the advice of several professors and administrators to learn more about the project, one of whom was Dr. Milton Reigelman, J. Rice Cowan Professor of English and Director of International Programs, who also serves as Chair of the Campus Landscape Committee. Reigelman was very excited about the project due to the historical importance of the Sinking Spring. “There’s a lot of myth and legend surrounding the spring,” Reigelman said. “Legend has it that was discovered by Kentuckian Daniel Boone, and that he camped by it for a night.”
According to Reigelman, the legend was pervasive enough that Jane Morton Norton, a Louisville businesswoman for whom the Norton Center is named, commissioned a statue of Daniel Boone that was meant to be placed so that the statue was always looking toward the spring. The statue still resides in the Norton Center.
Whitsett takes it a step further, saying that the Sinking Spring “is one of the two springs that the city of Danville was founded around, when it produced a lot more flow.” It makes the project even more important to Whitsett, because he considers guarding the spring a duty that has been entrusted to the college.
Whitsett has been working with Reigelman, Dr. Preston Miles (John C. Walkup Professor of Chemistry), Jeanette Bush (leader of the campus landscaping staff), and Mrs. Susie Roush to develop a plan to move forward with the project. Miles said that he and other Centre leaders were interested in the project because it fits with the college’s educational goals. “An educational institution’s goals are advanced largely in classrooms, but also on playing fields and social settings. They can also be advanced by our physical landscape. Our campus is part of that educational and learning process,” Miles said. “I love our campus, but we don’t have a lot of purely natural areas.”
The first step for the group was seeking a professional opinion about the general health of the spring. They sought the opinion of the state hydrologist, who came to campus and examined the spring. According to Whitsett, the hydrologist found that the flow is splitting off, causing the Centre site to get less water than in the past. Still, according to Miles, the news from the hydrologist was promising. “The hydrologist really just encouraged us to go forward [with the project]. He had no safety concerns. In fact, he was very supportive about the project because it will provide a protection for a waterway,” Miles said.
With the hydrologist’s support, the group met with the Campus Landscaping Committee and a tentative plan was drawn up. According to Whitsett, the current plan is threefold. The first and most important step is to reinforce the retaining wall that is around the spring. “If it collapses, it could damage the spring, which is really sensitive,” Whitsett said.
After the retaining wall is reinforced, the next step is a general cleanup and reconstruction of the area. The road right next to the spring has limited the amount of natural rainwater runoff that used to contribute to its water source. According to Whitsett, there is also a lot of pollution in the spring. “Landscaping did a clean-out of the spring last year and found lots of trash and bottles from as far back as the 1970s,” Whitsett said. According to Whitsett, this step would also include doing everything possible to “effectively and responsibly” restore the flow of the spring and perhaps build a springhouse that would hold the currently existing memorial to a former Centre student.
The final step would be to turn the area into a place in which Centre students can study and learn. This might include picnic tables, a space for native plantings, and a location set up for classes to study the water quality of the spring.
The project, according to Whitsett, is currently stalled at the point of attempting to find the funding that will be necessary to enact all of these plans. According to Miles, this is a problem the campus has faced before. There were plans to do work on the Sinking Spring in the past, most notably in President Roush’s first year on campus, but “we didn’t have enough resources or time to make it happen,” Miles said.
Everyone involved is working to solve the problem of funding. For Reigelman, this is a very valuable project that the campus should focus on moving forward. “It stands out because of its different character,” Reigelman said. “As you walk down to it there are a number of memorial trees to some of Centre’s great faculty. It’s a sacred approach to get to the area and to walk by or under the trees dedicated to my colleagues and friends.”
Whitsett concurs about the importance of the project. “There is, really, an unempirical sort of value to the spring,” Whitsett said. “It has definite historical and intellectual value. In a way, Centre has been entrusted to keep it safe and keep it maintained, and in some respects we’ve let that down.”