The Arboretum as a Regional and Local Amenity
The Arboretum at Penn State has the potential to be not just a campus
facility, but also a regional facility serving both the University
and an area that goes well beyond State College and Centre County.
The financial analysis has identified almost five million residents
that live within 100 miles of the Arboretum and could be a pool
of visitors. The study also advised that the Arboretum should reasonably
attract 190,000 visitors a year when it is up and running with a
real complement of attractions and events to draw people in. Fully
160,000 of those visitors would be coming from outside the Penn
Click on the
image above to open a new window with a much larger image
of the the Mitchell Tract as a Local Amenity.
The Arboretum is particularly well situated to be both a gateway
to the University and a window on the University and the diversity
of its programs. It will aesthetically complement the open lawn
of the East Sub-Campus directly across Park Avenue and Penn State
Dickinson School of Law's new Lewis
Katz Building directly to the east. It is located on Park
Avenue along the main entrance corridor to the University from
I-99 where its gardens and glass-walled conservatory will contrast
well with the athletic fields and the stadium.
Recommendations for Creating a Campus Amenity Contributing
to the Quality of Life in the Community and the Region
This conceptual plan
(developed in 2006) replaced the earlier versions created
by Sasaki Associates, Inc., and by M•T•R. (Click
on the image above to see a larger version.)
This Conceptual Plan for the Mitchell Tract differs from the original
master planning that had been done by Sasaki Associates, Inc, for
this site in two major respects. The building complex has been pulled
forward closer to Park Avenue; and Bigler Road has been re-designed
to create a major arrival at the front door of the Arboretum and
a shared entrance corridor to both the Arboretum's and law school's
parking lots. Because Housing and Food Services can be serviced
from University Drive, service trucks can be eliminated from this
area, thereby reducing conflicts between users. Relocating the buildings
accomplishes two things. The Arboretum buildings are closer to the
campus, and because they lay along a major arrival route, are more
accessible and visible to the rest of the campus. Placing the buildings
closer to Park Avenue also shields more of the Mitchell Tract from
the noise and and distractions of traffic.
Source: Joel McNeal
Perennials in various shades
of blue, lavender, and white will grace the bowl-shaped
area near the Arboretum's main entrance on Park Avenue.
This particular plant, Sisyrinchium montanum Greene
(blue-eyed grass), is a native that grows on stream banks,
and in woods and fields.
The area in front of the building complex is critical to the
welcoming look of the Arboretum both for visitors to the University
and for potential visitors to the Arboretum. This area must be
as attractive as possible, and therefore has some of the most
potentially popular features. What a visitor to the University
will see from Park Avenue is the conservatory and a water feature
in the conservatory's west terrace, both beautiful elements that
will help to draw visitors into the site. Since many visitors
will be arriving on foot or by bicycle, there are paths through
this area connecting to all the major intersections on Park Avenue
and leading back directly to the conservatory terrace and to the
entrance to the Arboretum. On the Park Avenue side of the conservatory
is the four seasons garden, a garden space designed to have the
earliest bloom in the spring and the latest bloom and fall color
so that there is always something to see. Next to the entry road
is the winter garden, which will feature plants that are attractive
in even the coldest months. Along the entire front section is
a major gift to the campus community - the March bowl - a garden
that puts on its mightiest show in March when winter seems to
have gone on forever and spring is still elusive.
Looking southeast along the tree-lined
axis of the East Sub-Campus
The Conceptual Plan responds to the Arboretum's location across
Park Avenue from the East Sub-Campus development in two ways.
It respects the strong axial layout developed from the Berkey
Creamery terrace, between the buildings and out onto the lawn,
by creating a boardwalk and small pavilion in the center of the
March bowl. thereby extending the axis across Park Avenue to the
water feature on the conservatory's west terrace. Like the East
Sub-Campus with its large semi-circle of lawn at its center, the
Arboretum uses the sweeping views across the March bowl to draw
the gaze of passers-by into the gardens and the building complex.
Source: Penn State Office of Physical Plant
The March bowl along Park Avenue
will welcome pedestrians to stroll its pathways. On a higher
point in the landscape, the water feature on the conservatory's
west terrace (represented by the red asterisk) will be clearly
visible from Park Avenue.
This plan also creates spaces for activities as well as places
to get away from the urban campus. It is well known that green
spaces have the ability to calm and refresh the spirit. Many Penn
State graduates remember the valley and its landscapes before
they remember particular places on campus. The Arboretum wants
to be a remembered place, a place of beauty, a place to go and
unwind and to reconnect with nature and growing things, as well
as a place to meet and socialize and to participate in activities
and events. The Mitchell Tract is a bridge to the larger Arboretum
that is vast and less intensively developed. This plan creates
the physical connections into the larger landscape by developing
the bike trail running along the east edge of the Mitchell Tract
and by connecting the trail system into Sunset Park. This path
also provides access to the larger site for the neighbors.
The Mitchell Tract provides much needed activity space, not
only for Arboretum-related activities, but also for use by the
whole University family and the local community. There are outdoor
spaces suitable for social events under tents, and terraces for
gatherings of all types from educational to social. The terraces
are placed next to indoor spaces that can be set up for events,
seminars, and parties. In the prime location on the crest of the
hill is the overlook pavilion with views across the flower gardens,
into Big Hollow, and back towards the education center and conservatory.
It is designed to function not only as a special garden spot but
also as a venue for after-hours events with its location near
parking, adjacent catering set-up spaces, and restrooms. The children's
education center has an outdoor multi-purpose room for large classes,
meetings, and social events. Several universities have found that
their gardens and arboreta are excellent places to introduce newcomers
to the university, entertain alumnae and to hold important university
events. The opportunities exist in this plan for those kinds of
things to happen. The botanic gardens can also function as an
adjunct to the social activities that take place at the Schreyer
Source: College of Agricultural Sciences
Several universities have found that
their gardens and arboreta are excellent places to introduce
newcomers to the university, to entertain alumni, and to
hold important university events.
This Conceptual Plan responds to the needs of the State College
region by designing the Mitchell Tract and its programs not only
for the University, but also for the larger community. The site
welcomes visitors by providing not only gardens, but also amenities
such as parking, a gift shop, restrooms, and limited food service.
Specific teaching exhibits are included that can be used by the
community and for community outreach such as the children's children's
education center and the demonstration gardens. Event spaces are
open to all. This institution will welcome community involvement
by offering memberships and volunteer opportunities.
This Conceptual Plan responds to requirements for environmental
sensitivity and to the constraints of the Mitchell Tract's location
on the University well fields' watershed. While grading on the
site has been kept to a minimum and storm water is held on the
site and not piped away, the most important thing that the Arboretum
can do is to maintain the quality of water infiltrating back into
the ground and then into the well fields. This must be done using
best horticultural practices and minimizing the use of chemicals.
This may be a focus of the Arboretum's research and will certainly
be a focus of its educational outreach.
The lower area of the swale has been kept free of structures
and paving and the design has been accomplished with bold planting.
This area can flood if the need arises. It is the intent of the
Master Plan to capture the roof and parking lot runoff and hold
it for irrigation and to recharge the water features. In this
way almost all of the runoff on the site will find its way back
into the recharge system for the wells.
The Mitchell Tract Circulation
Visitors may approach the Arboretum's main entrance by following
a driveway that sweeps them off of Bigler Road up to the front
door of the Arboretum, or continue traveling a short distance
to an intersection where they can enter the parking lot for the
Arboretum on the left, or that of the Dickinson School of Law
on the right.
A small service road connects to Bigler Road and maintains access
to the back of the Schreyer House. The Arboretum's parking lot
and vegetative screening shield visitors from views of the Housing
and Food Services Building. Truck traffic from the core of the
campus to Services Road will eventually be rerouted via University
As noted earlier, pedestrian paths move back into the site from
the Bigler and Shortlidge Road intersections and Park Avenue.
All paths and roads lead to the education center. It is critically
important to bring everyone through the education center in order
to orient visitors, to provide them with the materials they will
need to understand and enjoy the Arboretum, and to entice them
to return to attend an event, a class, or an exhibit that is coming
in the future. In this way the Arboretum can build programmatic
and financial support.
In order for this portal to work, the main exhibits in the Mitchell
Tract must be enclosed. While the Mitchell Tract will be fenced
and admission to this portion of the Arboretum may require a fee,
the majority of the Arboretum is freely accessible to all. Access
to it is maintained from Park Avenue and the College Heights neighborhood
as well as Big Hollow and Overlook Heights. As part of a comprehensive
bike trail plan, bicycle access runs along the east property line
on the main Arboretum service drive and out to the larger Arboretum
and its trail system. This trail system also connects into the
neighborhoods at Sunset Park. Visitors to the Mitchell Tract have
their own entrance into the rest of the Arboretum and its trails
through a gate at the end of the Meadow Garden.
There are other compelling reasons to fence the Mitchell Tract
and control access to it. Another reason is that the Arboretum
will be a steward of valuable collections and exhibits that require
protection. This facility needs to be thought of as a museum outdoors,
and it is common sense to lock the doors at the end of the day
and to control access. It is important to donors that these fragile
spaces are protected and maintained at the highest level. In this
way future donations and support are assured. Finally, the collections
must be protected from deer and other wildlife. The fence will
be largely integrated into tree masses and is not an intrusive
element. Where it is visible from the gardens, it will have to
be designed as a garden feature.
The Mitchell Tract will be serviced from a maintenance center
behind the Housing and Food Services Building. Service access
to the gardens is provided via the primary pedestrian loop.
Recommendations for Creating a Vibrant Educational Center
All of the outdoor exhibits are educational on all sorts of different
levels. The casual walker may just enjoy the color. But each exhibit
is part of the Arboretum's collection of plants, and each plant
is displayed in conditions conducive to its health and well-being.
In each garden there will be plant labels and perhaps interpretive
signs or materials, all of which provide low-key educational opportunities.
Each garden also can be used for interpreted tours, classes, symposia,
and so on. It is absolutely critical as the Master Plan is implemented
and each part of the Arboretum is designed in more detail, that
educators be a part of the design process so that good solid interpretive
Source: College of Agricultural
Peter Feretti, professor
of horticulture, conducts a tour of a vegetable trial garden
at Penn State. Best practices for growing vegetables will
be displayed in one of four demonstration gardenss available
for tours, classes, and volunteer activities in the Arboretum.
But the key to the educational programs at the Arboretum is
the educational core created by this plan. It consists of the
teaching spaces in the education center, the event lawn and the
flanking teaching gardens, the children's education center, and
the demonstration gardens. The uses for the teaching spaces can
be as varied as a class for the general public, a continuing education
class for green industry professionals, or a seminar about the
latest findings of some aspect of the University's research programs.
The event lawn is available for large plant shows and festivals.
The teaching gardens are intended to engage people directly in
horticulture, in learning about environmental issues, and in exploring
the relationship between plants and man.
The demonstration gardens are designed for hands-on learning
about all aspects of landscape design, horticulture, environmental
issues, and the world of plants. They contain teaching areas such
as the learning center and a small outdoor amphitheater. They
have the potential to be one of the windows on the University's
research. Parts of the gardens are meant to change over time to
engage different talents from within the University and to provide
practical learning experiences.
Recommendations for Creating a Horticultural Museum
The Arboretum consists of 370 acres, and the majority of the site
is devoted to research and environmental exhibits. The Mitchell
Tract, the fifty-eight acres facing Park Avenue, is the horticultural
and botanical center for the Arboretum and the transition to the
rest of the Arboretum. This Conceptual Plan differs from the original
Arboretum Master Plan in trying to tie the Mitchell Tract more firmly
to the rest of the Arboretum. This has been accomplished by extending
the planting beyond the crest of the hill and across the open field
to the tree line at Big Hollow.
There are two major types of exhibits: displays and environmental
exhibits. The horticultural displays are what bring visitors to
the site for the first visit. They have popular appeal and, typically,
are colorful or exotic. They also reveal themselves in completely
different ways across the seasons, rewarding those who return
to explore. Some of the displays on this tract are concentrated
along Park Avenue to advertise the Arboretum to the passing public
and provide a particularly inviting front door. They include the
March bowl, the four seasons garden, the conservatory, and the
rose and fragrance garden.
Source: College of Agricultural
Robert Berghage, professor
of horticulture, leads a tour of the Penn State flower gardens.
Such tours will be expanded to include perennial gardens,
a rock garden, a river of ornamental grasses, and a parterre
garden once the Mitchell Tract is developed.
The other displays, the flower gardens, are located prominently
around the event lawn and are arrayed down the slope to the north
from the overlook pavilion. The display gardens are arranged along
a formal axis that runs the length of the Mitchell Tract. This
axis features the grass family to help tie the Mitchell Tract
to the larger Arboretum.
While the larger areas in the Arboretum have turf research plots,
restored prairie, fields and meadows, the Mitchell Tract will
display turf, ornamental grasses, meadow gardens, agricultural
crops, and even exotic members of the grass family such as bamboo.
To the south, the axis runs through the pavilion on the boardwalk
in the March bowl, along the lawn panel, and through the four
seasons garden to the water feature on the conservatory's west
terrace. On the other side of the terrace, it runs across the
event lawn, through the overlook pavilion at the crest of the
hill, and then down through a river of grasses and dry stream
into the meadow garden and recreated prairie beyond. Visitors
are thereby encouraged to move out into the rest of the Arboretum
to explore further.
Source: Joel McNeal
This plant, Thalictrum
thalictroides (L.) A.J.Eames & B.Boivin (rue anemone,
windflower), was found growing on the land that will become
the Arboretum. It is common in wooded banks and thickets,
and flowers from April to June.
Because the Mitchell Tract is the transition to the larger Arboretum
with its re-created native plant communities, the exhibits closest
to the larger expanse of the Arboretum have an environmental theme,
exploring plants that grow in meadow and in shade and woodland
settings. These environmental exhibits are designed as gardens,
not native environments. They explore the plants appropriate to
Asian Woods, closer to the educational core, and, as the visitor
passes through the Transition Woods into Penn's Woods along the
edge of the Mitchell Tract, they gradually concentrate exclusively
on native plants. Together they contain all the best plants for
shade and woodland settings in central Pennsylvania.
While the Mitchell Tract is arranged in what we have called
displays and environmental exhibits, these exhibits contain a
large portion of the Arboretum's plant collections. Though the
plant collections may be shown in a way that appeals to the public
and are not set out in neat rows or separated by genus, they need
to be curated the same way that any museum collection would be.
They are the basis for research and for the Arboretum's educational
Recommendations for Generating Income
The Arboretum needs to be as self-supporting as possible through
endowment income, annual giving, and earned income. Therefore
the Master Plan maximizes the opportunities for generating income
and developing membership support. Based on the recommendations
that have been generated by the financial analysis, it is important
that the Arboretum appeal to as many people as possible to generate
support. The Arboretum must be a regional attraction, not just
a University facility.
The Arboretum must have the capacity to charge admission, since
admissions can contribute as much as 26% of total income over
time. The Arboretum can allow most students to visit the botanic
gardens at very favorable rates or at no charge, but it is important
to collect fees from other visitors and to persuade them to become
members of the Arboretum. Establishing a membership program is
important to income since members will be the Arboretum's biggest
supporters. They spend more, take advantage of the educational
offerings, volunteer and are more apt to give annually. Therefore
it is critical to start a dialogue with visitors and to promote
all that the Arboretum offers. The visitor services areas are
key to making this happen.
The education center has several revenue-generating spaces including
the gift shop, café, and educational spaces. All the educational
facilities in the education center must be attractively designed
so that they can be rented for meetings and social events. These
indoor spaces have adjacent outdoor terraces that can be rented
in combination with the interior spaces. The conservatory needs
to be designed to accommodate small groups both inside and out.
Out in the gardens, the event lawn and the overlook pavilion
are not only attractive garden features but also venues for large
fundraising events such as plant sales and festivals, or for small
parties and events. The overlook pavilion can be packaged with
the event lawn or the children's education center for more flexibility.
The financial analysis emphasizes that there is a very good potential
market for weddings on the Arboretum site. Accordingly, the plan
provides spaces within the gardens where small ceremonies could