in a name?
For the past several years, the strip of green space where UW-Madison
meets Lake Mendota has been known as the "Campus Natural Areas." The
body I chair was known as "the Campus Natural Areas Committee," and
this newsletter has been published by a superb volunteer organization
known as the Friends of the Campus Natural Areas.
But very few people at the University or in the city of Madison
ever had a clear sense of what the "Campus Natural Areas" was,
what it was for, or even where it was located. If you stopped a
hundred people in the city and asked them to outline the "Campus
Natural Areas" on a map, I'll bet few would have been able
to do it very successfully.
This has been a serious problem for those of us who want to do
a better job of protecting and interpreting these precious lands
to benefit all who might visit, learn from, and care for them.
That is why, after extended conversations, we proposed a name change
to coincide with the new master plans both for the CNA itself and
for UW-Madison as a whole. Happily, the University adopted our
proposal in May 2005, so that the "CNA" will henceforth
be known as "The Lakeshore Nature Preserve."
Place Names on Mental Maps
Geographers speak of "mental maps," the cartographic
representations that all of us carry inside our heads that help
us understand and navigate the landscapes we inhabit. If we were
to ask what parts of the old Campus Natural Areas did exist
on the mental maps of most Madisonians, the answer seems clear.
We all know where Picnic Point is, and all of us have a host of
images and experiences that this name evokes for us. The same is
true for the Lakeshore Path.
These are surely the most resonant place names in the Lakeshore
Nature Preserve. Depending on who you are, what you do, and what
you most care about, names like "Muir Woods" or the "Class
of 1918 Marsh" or "Eagle Heights Woods" or "Lot
34" or "University Bay" or "Willow Drive" or "Eagle
Heights Community Gardens" may or may not be clearly marked on
your mental map. And yet each of these names identifies a place that
is vitally important to the successful protection and stewardship of
Naming Our Values, Declaring Our
Commitment to Preserve
After much discussion, the Campus Natural Areas Committee concluded
that the original name did not do an effective job of helping people
identify these lands and strengthening our common commitment to
protecting them. What was wrong with "Campus Natural Areas"?
It was geographically vague, giving no indication of where these
lands are located. Encountering the phrase for the first time,
one could easily have thought that the Arboretum was among the
natural areas of campus, yet the CNA never included the Arboretum.
The fact that the name was plural rather than singular also discouraged
people from thinking of the place as an integrated whole, and created
perennial syntactic confusion (was the acronym CNA singular or
plural?) whenever one used it in a sentence.
Worse still, "Areas" made no statement whatsoever about
the nature of our commitment to these lands: it simply said that
they were an abstract geographical territory on a map. "Areas" said
nothing about why we care about them, how we intend to use (or
not use) them, or what the nature of our commitment to them might
be. The abstraction of the name was heightened by the ease with
which "Campus Natural Areas" invited people to convert
this vague phrase to a more convenient acronym—but of course, "CNA" does
even less to mark one's mental map or to declare a set of values
than the longer place name does.
For all these reasons, we are delighted that the University has agreed
to rename the abstract place called CNA so that henceforth it will
stand much more vividly
on people's mental maps—and on actual physical maps of the campus
and the city—as "The Lakeshore Nature Preserve" of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison . The word "lakeshore" tells
people precisely where this strip of natural green space is located,
expanding and contracting depending on the location to be, at times,
as narrow as the Lakeshore Path or as wide as Eagle Heights Woods. "Nature" declares
what we most value about this place: its natural organisms, communities,
and qualities. Unlike "Areas," the word "Preserve" is
a singular noun, describing a unified whole. Better still, it declares
our commitment. We intend to preserve this place to protect the
plants, animals, and natural systems it shelters, and to benefit
all the future generations of people who will visit and care for
I should add that we very much hope that people will steadfastly
resist the impulse to refer to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve using
an acronym: we hope no one will start calling it the "LNP," since
doing so would erase most of the benefits that go with the new name. Instead,
because we recognize that people won't always want to say the full name, we
strongly encourage everyone to feel comfortable calling it "The Lakeshore
Preserve" or even "The Preserve." Wouldn't it be great if Madisonians
could soon refer to "The Preserve" as easily as they now do to "The
Arboretum," and everyone would know precisely what they're talking about?
Our hope is that it won't be long before all of us will have this
new name firmly in our minds, and that henceforth everyone who cares
about UW-Madison will have a bright green place on their mental maps—and
in their hearts—called The Lakeshore Nature Preserve.