Penn State Intercom......February 14, 2002

Arboretum development focus
is on visual appeal, education

By Gary W. Cramer
Public Information

The most detailed plan unveiled yet for the future Arboretum at Penn State portrays the facility as a focal point for horticultural, environmental and related education -- as well as a year-round tourist attraction -- that will provide a new "front door" to the University Park campus. arbor1

The emphasis of the third and final public meeting addressing University plans for the arboretum, held on Jan. 31, was on the earliest stages of development of gardens and supporting buildings on the "Mitchell Tract." The tract is an approximately 56-acre portion of the overall arboretum land bordering Park Avenue, adjacent to Schreyer House -- the University's presidential residence -- and the College Heights neighborhood.

When fully realized, the arboretum will stretch its formally designed features, along with an informal network of trails, maintained fields and ecologically diverse woods, over 395 acres that currently are in agricultural use or fallow. If $10 million in lead gifts can be raised from private sources in the near future, the arboretum planners predict an opening in 2008 at the earliest.arbor2

An education/visitor's center that doubles as the entrance to a fenced-in portion of the grounds, a year-round conservatory, a pond with a fountain, a "March Bowl" garden of blue-and-white plantings and other gardens are components of the Mitchell Tract portion of the plan. Some of the other gardens will be themed around aquatic plants, roses and fragrances, home landscapes, birds, and fruits and vegetables.

"The gardens will become a major tourist attraction and cultural feature of the Centre Region, so we consider this unveiling of the plan to be a big milestone," said Kim C. Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of The Arboretum at Penn State. "We anticipate that besides visitors who are interested in the arboretum from a purely scenic or recreational point of view, it will be used heavily by University students in a variety of disciplines, guests from regional schools and professionals for whom the next nearest comparable arboretum may be at the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University or the University of Michigan. We expect to attract about 160,000 visitors annually from outside the local community."

Missy Marshall, a landscape architect with Marshall-Tyler-Rausch LLC, Pittsburgh, explained that the firm's design for the Mitchell Tract aims to entice passersby on Park Avenue with views of the pond and March Bowl garden, both of which will be accessible at all times, and of the conservatory and education/visitor's center, which will have controlled access along with the rest of the tract grounds. Fencing in part of the grounds will help avert deer damage and provide security for valuable botanic collections and displays. More than 300 acres of the arboretum will be unfenced and available for hiking and biking at all times. arboretum_map

"The Mitchell Tract can become a new 'front door' to the University for drivers coming in from the new Route 99 -- something that will show off the horticultural and educational strengths of Penn State as an educational institution as a counterpoint to Beaver Stadium and the nearby athletic fields," said Marshall, who developed the plan with partner Geoff Rausch.

Marshall and Rausch have done major design work for such institutions as the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, Phipps Conservatory, Holden Arboretum and the Denver Botanic Gardens.

"These designers enjoy a strong national reputation for their work on many of this country's most prominent arboreta and botanic gardens, and we are extremely pleased with what they have done for us," Steiner said. "It is a grand vision, and these gardens and facilities will be one of the most significant enhancements to the University Park campus in our lifetimes. They will become the jewels of the campus."

Steiner noted that the Mitchell Tract master plan will be followed by plans for three other sections of the arboretum, and follows as a natural outgrowth of a preliminary master plan for the entire arboretum prepared with the assistance of Sasaki Associates, Watertown, Mass., in 1999. The three sections to be addressed in future master plans are the Overlook Heights section and the South and North Big Hollow sections.

According to Steiner, an important feature of the plan released two weeks ago is that the design and arrangement of the gardens and buildings is deliberately integrated with the arboretum's mission of education and outreach. Kindergarten through 12th-grade education is strongly emphasized, along with the adult education aspects that are standard features of all arboreta and botanic gardens.

Gary W. Cramer can be reached at