The University Record, April 22, 1997

Arb use by ROTC units questioned by public comments speakers

By Jane R. Elgass

Use of the Arboretum by ROTC students was brought before the Regents during their public comments session last week by members of the U-M and Ann Arbor communities. Army and Navy ROTC units use the Arb for traning exercises, sometimes appearing in full gear with replicas of machine guns.

Donald H. Gray, a member of the board of Friends of the Arboretum, appeared before the Regents in defense of the use of the Arb by ROTC students.

"The Arboretum is the crown jewel of Ann Arbor and concern about its appropriate uses" is understandable. However, he said, "there is little merit" to allegations about destruction of plant life made by Ronald Holzhacker in a recent Ann Arbor News article.

He characterized the ROTC exercises as "tame and circumspect" compared with what he considers real concerns---erosion and other damage caused by trail bikes on trails and hills, safety issues related to dogs running loose, and removal of trees by individuals during the winter holidays.

Holzhacker, a member of Citizens for the Preservation of Nichols Arboretum, said that the mission of the Arb is to provide an educational and research setting, adding that preservation of plant life is central to that mission.

He said ROTC exercises are "outrageous activities," that present "serious safety and environmental concerns."

Robert Oppenheimer, an Ann Arbor resident, has a special relationship with the Arb, since he met his wife there. He related two of their experiences with ROTC students, stating that they were very frightening and that his wife is so uncomfortable that she won't return to the Arb.

David R. Bassett said that perceptions of preservation, tranquillity and safety are inherent to the concept of arboretums, and that those things are threatened by the ROTC training exercises.

Arboretum Director Harrison L. Morton said in an interview with the Record that Holzhacker's concerns about plant damage are "totally unfounded, in absolute terms and in relation to other kinds of activities."

Those who related their encounters with ROTC groups were "startled and surprised," Morton says, and they should not have been. As part of the agreement with ROTC units, a notice is to be posted at all gates.

He has talked with the Army and Navy ROTC officers and we will "tighten things down a bit. They have become lax [in posting notices]." He also says that the ROTC units "are willing to change their practices in any degree we want. They are very cooperative."