Chilling in a hammock is relaxing for the occupant, but it can be stressful for the tree.
With usage on the upswing on campus in recent years, hammocks have taken a toll on many historic Iowa State trees. Straps leave cuts in bark. Increased foot traffic compacts soil, making it more difficult for roots to deliver water and nutrients. And some limbs simply aren't sturdy enough to support hammocks.
"We all love our central campus with its open lawn and beautiful trees, but some of these trees are quite old and fragile. It would be a shame if our love of our stately campus trees could also cause them harm," said Rhonda Martin, landscape architect for facilities planning and management.
In a pilot project this spring, FPM staff installed six hammock posts among a cluster of trees frequently used for hammocking east of the campanile. FPM worked with students from Green Umbrella, a student organization that advocates for sustainability, to identify potential locations for the steel posts, based in part on pre-existing use patterns and lower visibility from sidewalks.
Near a handful of other trees -- some of the oldest and most significant specimens on campus, Martin said -- new signs try to sway students' habits, asking them to respect the distinctive trees by using the designated hammock area.
"We're trying to say, 'Look, we hear you. But how can we do it and still protect the trees?'" she said.
Though hammock-friendly weather has been scarce so far, early indications show additional guidance might be needed. On a recent warm day, numerous hammocks were strung between posts and trees.
"Our intention is students use just the poles, not the trees. So we're halfway there," Martin said.
FPM will consult with the student sustainability group on how to clarify the purposes of the hammock posts, said Martin, who pointed out the tree-relief effort is a pilot project that will need tweaking before any potential next steps. The project group plans to reconvene this fall.
"It's a work in progress," she said.