Opinion: Franciscan University should not develop the golf course land behind Assisi Heights

By Mia Brounstein

A few weeks ago, after a long and stressful Tuesday, I decided to take a hike out in the golf course.

I walked further than I ever had before, and I soon found myself on a trail cut into the side of a bluff. The cool dark of a forest gathered close around the path, and all I could hear was wind and birdsong.

I felt like I had been transported from Steubenville to the familiar trails of Minnesota state parks, and the stresses of my day immediately started to melt away. When I at last emerged from the golf course, I felt refreshed and grateful.

For those who aren’t familiar, much of the land behind Assisi Heights and near the turf field used to be a golf course. This land, now overgrown with trees, grass, bushes and wildflowers, has become something like a nature park for the worthy students of Franciscan.

More than once, I have heard students suggest that the University should develop this land, using it for new dorms, classroom buildings and other facilities that are becoming more and more necessary as the University grows.

While I entirely agree with arguments surrounding the necessity of these new amenities, I cannot advocate for the destruction of the golf course land.

According to the American Psychological Association, “From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.”

For students, whose lifestyles are full of academic stress, mental instability and immersive and demanding social atmospheres, such benefits are incredibly important.

In addition, the golf course promotes greater physical health among the student body. For those who are uncomfortable going to the gym or bored of walking the perimeter of campus, the golf course provides a new frontier full of trails for walking, running and biking.

Controversially, I think another benefit of the golf course is the privacy it provides for couples and friends alike. Between the busyness of the J.C. and the thin walls of the dorms, finding a place to enjoy a private heart-to-heart on campus is nearly impossible.

With several miles of trails and makeshift benches and firepits dotting the wide expanse of land behind the Heights, there are plenty of places for individuals to be free to chat without worrying about being overheard.

It could be argued, however, that all of these benefits can be obtained from an off-campus location, such as Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania.

However, for the many students who, like myself, have no car, having trails and woods bordering campus itself is a blessing. After a long day, it’s easy to set aside a little time between class and supper to walk through the golf course and detox.

Finally, we profess ourselves to be a Franciscan university. St. Francis is, of course, most renowned for his love of nature.

Seeing God in all things, especially nature, is an important charism of the Franciscan spirituality. By keeping the natural beauty of the golf course intact, the University is putting into practice this charism and honoring the spirit of St. Francis himself.

I would urge anyone who believes that the golf course should be developed to spend a little time out in those overgrown woods and fields, or at least to observe the happiness on the faces of friends who turn to the golf course for physical and mental replenishment.

It seems to me that the spirit of St. Francis rests more richly out in the rolling hills of the golf course than nearly anywhere else on campus, and no new buildings are worth the loss of that spirit.