The 9 Best Places on Campus to Enjoy Fresh Air

By: Sarah Hansen, M.S. '15
Jan 21, 2022

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The Norwegians call it “friluftsliv”—the philosophy of spending time outdoors frequently, regardless of the weather. Or, as the Swedes put it, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” These denizens of harsh northern climes aren’t just making the best of the cold—there’s a host of documented benefits to going outside.

“Research has demonstrated that spending time outdoors can improve physical health and emotional wellbeing, especially the more time you spend outdoors,” says Samantha Smith, associate director of health promotion at UMBC. “Whether taking a walk or just soaking up some natural sunlight, spending time outside can boost your mood, inspire creativity, help to reduce stress and anxiety-related symptoms, and increase your mobility and flexibility.”

In celebration of spending time outdoors in all seasons, here are a few of the best spots on and near campus to enjoy some fresh air in the new year.

1.       Library Pond

The Library Pond sits at the north end of Academic Row between the AOK Library and Gallery and the Meyerhoff Chemistry Building. Surrounded by native vegetation, it is also a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. Ducks, songbirds, and the occasional heron enjoy the pond year round. The pond also supports a small population of catfish (but no fishing!). As a human, you can enjoy a brisk walk around the pond (approximately 500 steps) to get your blood flowing again after a serious bout of screen time, or enjoy your lunch at tables on the pond’s patio or the library’s terraced hillside nearby. 

But wait, there’s more: Underneath the surface of the pond lies a complicated series of tunnels and reservoirs that enhances storm water management by preventing flooding and improving filtration of precipitation. The pond was completely gutted in 2013 and the current version completed in 2015, setting the stage for much better support of plants, animals, and the campus.

Circling the Library Pond is an invigorating stroll in any season.

2.       Joseph Beuys Sculpture Park

The Joseph Beuys Sculpture Park is not your typical sculpture garden. In 2001, volunteers planted 30 trees on The Knoll, a wooded area between The Commons Garage and Administration Drive. Each tree has a stone at its base. The trees and stones compose a living artwork that emphasizes constant transformation: As the trees grow, the stones erode, shifting their relationship with each other and the landscape. The sculpture garden is modeled after a similar (but much larger) project in Kassel, Germany, which was installed in the 1980s and includes over 7,000 trees. At UMBC, three wooden benches are situated among the trees and one conceals a journal in a small cubby, where passersby are welcome to contribute their musings. The UMBC library archives store all of the completed journals.

When you visit the sculpture park, make sure to write down your thoughts in The Knoll’s shared journal.

As the campus has grown and expanded, The Knoll has remained intact thanks to the support of UMBC community members advocating for the green space over several decades. Today, the sculpture park is a highly valued and peaceful sanctuary that is expected to welcome many future generations of UMBC students.

3.       Forum

Just outside the Performing Arts and Humanities Building, several large stone structures, almost like upside-down bookends, rise from the earth in ancient Greco-Roman style. Stools of various heights below the columns invite community members to have a seat and wax philosophical. Instructors conduct class discussions around the sculpture, named “Forum” by artist Thomas Sayre, and a colorful sky at sunset is often visible just across The Loop. The Ancient Studies department holds regular readings beneath Forum’s stately columns—even in winter.

Forum was the very first public art installation supported by the Maryland State Arts Council’s “Percent-for-Art” program, which requires new state-owned buildings to set aside a portion of their budgets for public art installations. 

Forum draped in a dusting of snow. 

4.       Commons Terrace

The Commons Terrace, just south of The Commons and looking out on the quad and outdoor pool, is another great outdoor spot. With numerous tables, it’s the perfect locale to enjoy your lunch in any weather. (Make sure to properly sort your trash and compost and recycle whatever you can—even plastic bags can now be recycled in designated bins.) You might even get lucky and see an impromptu performance or tabling event. If it’s nice out, take advantage of the oversize Adirondack chairs on the terraced hillside leading down to the quad.

Find a few minutes to lift your face to the sun even on a chilly day on the Commons Terrace.

5.       RAC Plaza

At the main entrance to campus, between the RAC and Administration Building, a handful of tables beckons students to study and socialize. The tables are equipped with umbrellas topped by solar panels that support charging ports, so there’s no need to go inside when your laptop runs out of juice. In fact, UMBC gets 40 percent of its energy from solar and other renewable sources. In early spring, as the campus is just shaking off the cold, enjoy the blooms of the star magnolia trees lined up along the RAC. And don’t forget to rub True Grit’s nose while you’re there!

The RAC plaza viewed from above. Solar panels perch on top of the tables’ umbrellas.

6.       Admin Café Terrace

Just across Academic Row from the RAC, in front of the Administration Building, another small enclave of tables welcomes those enjoying a meal from the Admin Café or their own lunch bag. The seating area is protected by mint, bluestar, and more in a garden honoring former Vice President for Administration and Finance Mark Behm. Feel the crisp air and sunshine on your face as you dig into the café ‘s blue plate special, and ponder the meaning of the divided obelisk nearby.

The Admin Cafe Terrace in summer.

7.       Erickson Field

Nothing like tossing a frisbee or football, playing soccer, or partaking in humans vs. zombies to warm you up on a cold day. Erickson Field, the large grassy area between the Library and new Center for Well-Being, is the place to go for casual outdoor sports. In fall, the UMBC Homecoming bonfire and movie showing also take place here.  

Make new friends and hobbies by playing pick up games on Erickson Field.

8.       Herbert Run Greenway

The Herbert Run, a tributary of the Patapsco River, meanders along the southeast quadrant of campus. The Herbert Run Greenway trail traces its path from the sculpture park, around the stadium complex, through the Conservation Environmental Research Area (a designated outdoor research space at UMBC), and toward bwtech@UMBC. The entire trail travels about 1.5 miles, but one of the trail’s highlights is accessible just steps from the campus entrance plaza. Visit the CERA Pond (previously known as Pig Pen Pond) just across The Loop from the Administration Drive Garage. Reach it via a footbridge flanked by two pollinator gardens. A duck house and a small viewing platform will greet you, and possibly some ducks and turtles, too. Currently, a portion of the trail near the stadium is undergoing a major stream restoration to improve habitat, stormwater management, and access to the stadium. It should be completed by mid-spring 2022.

The sidewalk (almost) ends at CERA Pond, right outside The Loop. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hansen.

9.       Patapsco Valley State Park

For those interested in a bigger adventure, Patapsco Valley State Park’s Hilton, Glen Artney, Orange Grove, and Avalon areas are located just off campus. One of the premier mountain biking destinations in the state, the park is also popular for hiking, swimming, camping, and grilling at the park’s many pavilions. More than 30 miles of trails wind through the park, from the paved Grist Mill Trail along the Patapsco River to rocky, technical routes. Cascade Falls is a particularly popular destination. The park is also a great location for birdwatching and sighting other wildlife.  

Cascade Falls at Patapsco State Park. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hansen.

As you can see, there are plenty of places to enjoy a brisk walk, a quiet moment, or a group activity on campus throughout the seasons. Just remember to grab your hat and gloves, and you won’t even notice the chill in the air. 

“Just because it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean the outdoors is closed!” Smith reminds us. “Bundle up, grab your sunscreen, and enjoy the wonders and benefits of spending time outside all year long.” 

*****

All photos courtesy of Marlayna Demond ’11, unless otherwise noted.

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