The arboretum was created to help beautify the campus and celebrate the heritage of trees that helped to grow America.
By Sherri Long
Media Club Reporter
The next time you walk over Henszey’s Bridge, which connects ATEC with the Bollinger and Bart A. Milano Hall campus area, be sure to look down.
There, you will see a meandering, tanbark path winding through some trees.
That is Central Penn’s arboretum.
“The word arboretum means a botanical collection (etum) of trees (arbor). I like to think of it as a tree museum or zoo,” plant expert Vanessa Richins Myers wrote on abouthome.com.
Gene Wingert, East Pennsboro resident, township historical society member and Central Penn scholarship donor, helped plan the arboretum and select trees for it. Wingert also helped plan the Pine Hill Arboretum, also in East Pennsboro Township, for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, according to the grant application submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in 2008.
“Trees are our heritage and they still represent a frontier to our urbanized society,” according to the description in a pamphlet created during the planning of the arboretum. “Hopefully, you will gain insight into their importance, both past and present, and strive to protect our forest resource.”
The 25 trees were chosen for their uses in the development and establishment of Northeast America’s first settlers. The explanation about each tree species provided on a small placard on a short post in front of each tree gives the scientific name and the uses for that tree. A tree’s wood type was important for its strength and resistance against rotting, while others were important for their fruit, nuts and medicinal value.
An excerpt from Central Penn’s pamphlet about the arboretum states:
Sweet Gum tree, “Liquidambar styraciflue”: A tree of moist bottomlands. Storax gum is extracted from the bark and used for soaps and drugs. The colonists used the healing power of this tree to treat anything from wounds, fever, toothache, skin diseases, herpes, scabies and mange. The colonists used the wood for spoons and bowls. Some of the oldest and finest furniture preserved in museums and conservatories was made from sweet gum. Some clarinets were also fashioned from this wood.
The planting of the arboretum began with very young trees that “looked like Charlie Brown stick trees,” joked Matthew Lane, executive director of the Central Penn College Education Foundation.
The trees in the arboretum are now well established, but their growth has not been easy. Lane said some of the original trees died because conditions where the trees are planted are subject to great weather variations.
Lane explained that the area under Henszey’s Bridge can be swampy, dry or flooded, depending on the amount of rainfall. This is one reason plans to put birdhouses and park benches in the area were tabled.
Another reason is the recession of 2008.
“When the recession hit, we needed to focus our fundraising efforts elsewhere,” Lane stated.
The birdhouses and benches were going to be a source of fundraising for the Foundation. For a certain level of giving, a person could have a birdhouse or bench that would be placed in the arboretum, and would be dedicated to that donor.
The arboretum was created with money from the college’s general budget, Lane said.
During the beginning phase of the arboretum planning, discussions about having donors purchase a tree for planting was another fundraising idea. Lane explained that the idea was not implemented due to possible complications of not being able to insure the trees, or uncertainty about what to do if the tree was in a spot that could be in a future campus expansion zone.
The Foundation has an Arboretum Society giving level and showcases these donors on three plaques on campus. One is on the third floor of ATEC, one is in the Boyer House and one is on a wall in Lane’s office. A new plaque is created each year.
Within the Arboretum Society is the Legacy Branch, which is for donors who have made a planned gift of $10,000 or more. Examples of a planned gift are an annuity, property or bequest.
The Central Penn website lists the arboretum “As part of a 2008 campus beautification project, the College’s arboretum was named in honor of its dear friend and scholarship contributor, George J. Miller, Jr. (1918-2008).”
Lane explained that Miller usually gave his contributions anonymously — which totaled close to a half-million dollars — but after his passing, the college wanted to acknowledge and honor Miller through the arboretum.
The Facilities Department is responsible for the maintenance of the arboretum. A tanbark path marks where the trees of the arboretum are, but due to the arboretum’s changing environment, a walking path hasn’t been established. Sometimes, the arboretum can be “quite marshy,” Lane said.
There are a few benches and a circle of holly trees in the Student Fellowship Area, behind Fred Hall Apartments. These benches and garden plaques are dedicated to honor donors of the college.
The Student Fellowship Area marks the beginning and end of the Central Penn one-mile walking trail. This trail is made of pavers – brick or other stones used to construct or cover walkways – concrete and macadam. Part of the arboretum is visible from this trail –– safe from the surrounding fluctuating water levels.
Will the birdhouse or park bench fundraisers in the arboretum make a comeback? Lane stated that a few ideas have been discussed, informally, that include placing birdhouses and benches high enough not to be affected by changing water levels. Other options are steps or paths to the arboretum.
Any formal plans for the arboretum will rely heavily on the Facilities Department, because “they are the ones who work on that land area and understand the changing conditions the best,” Lane said.
Edited by Media Club Co-adviser Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi.
To comment on this story, or to suggest a story idea, email the editors at KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.edu.