Looking down into Big Hollow from Big
Hollow Road. The former bed of the Bellefonte Central Railroad
can be seen in the background on the right.
The Preliminary Master Plan for The Penn State Arboretum
prepared by the Arboretum Task Force in conjunction with the Office
of Physical Plant and the consultants, Sasaki Associates, Inc.,
defined the proposed patterns of land use, circulation, and open
space for the Arboretum. It was adopted as part of the University
Park Campus Master Plan in March 1999.
This essential document establishes basic land use organization
for the Arboretum, as follows: to locate the public arrival area,
an education center, and horticultural education and display activities
in the southeastern end of the site near Park Avenue, and to locate
research and teaching areas devoted to natural plant communities,
soils, forestry, agriculture and turfgrass, and hydrology in the
Big Hollow lands and Overlook Heights area
to the north and west. The plan capitalizes on the Park Avenue
frontage for its public access and exposure, and for its close
proximity to the academic campus. Natural areas and large scale
landscape activities are assigned to less readily accessible and
developable land and to sensitive land around the University well
field that would be best undeveloped.
Also known as the Sasaki plan, the preliminary master plan proposes
that the education center be located on the Mitchell Tract where
it will benefit from close proximity to the campus, ready access
from Park Avenue, and the availability of existing sewer, water,
and electrical systems. The general slope orientation of the land
adjacent to Park Avenue is towards the southeast, the horticulturally
optimal orientation for solar aspect and protection from winter
winds and harsh afternoon sun. The gentle ridge that crosses the
Mitchell Tract is also the highest elevation on the Arboretum
site, approximately 1,290 feet.
Although the Sasaki plan proposes that the education
center be located on Bigler Road, straddlng the broad ridge
line that crosses the Mitchell Tract, the more detailed Mitchell
Tract Master Plan for the botanic gardens, written in 2002 and
revised in 2006 by M•T•R Landscape Architects, LLC
(MTR), places it closer to Park Avenue so that the building itself
can help to buffer the gardens from the distractions and noise
Other recommendations in the Sasaki plan include having a large-vehicle
drop-off area to accommodate cars as well as buses, and employing
environmentally sensitive techniques to manage storm water runoff
from the parking and paved areas on site. MTR has incorporated
these concepts into the Mitchell Tract Master Plan.
Source: Penn State Archives
This early picture of Penn State's greenhouses reminds us of the many years that the University has contributed to research in horticulture and related fields.
To the northwest of the botanic gardens, the
Arboretum consists of 244 acres of managed natural plant communities
in Big Hollow, a narrow valley that
traverses the Arboretum, and a 68-acre Overlook Heights Teaching
and Research Area. The preliminary plan purposefully locates the
highly managed activities of turfgrass research and agriculture
in an area adjacent to natural plant communities so that the relationships
between human activity and natural systems can be studied and
enjoyed in close proximity.
Source: Joel McNeal
This flower, Geranium maculatum
L. (wood geranium), blooms in the Arboretum woodlands from
May through early June.
The natural plant communities recommended in the preliminary
plan are as follows: Valley Prairie-Savanna, mature Valley Oak-Pine-Hickory
Forest, Ridgetop Oak-Pine Forest, Mixed Mesophytic Forest, Valley
Stream Bank Forest, Northern Hardwood Forest, Barrens Community,
Native Pine Woods, and a created wetland in the southwestern end
of Big Hollow. Plants would be ordered in these areas according
to their ecological relationships rather than by the traditional
method of family and genus associations.
Within the managed native plant communities, the Sasaki plan
proposes that the subsurface geology of the site be expressed
through systematic tree plantings along existing fracture trace
lines. These plantings would establish long allées to connect
the various natural areas and create memorable landscape experiences.
As mentioned earlier, the Overlook Heights Teaching and Research
Area is to be developed for turfgrass research and/or other environmentally
sensitive agricultural activities such as no-till farming and
integrated pest management. The area could also include nurseries
for woody plants propagation and research. The Sasaki plan recommends
that the turfgrass research area include 35 acres for the Valentine
Plots, the Landscape Management Research Center and support buildings,
yard space, and parking space for 50 cars. Controlled access to
this facility would be via Fox Hollow Road to Big Hollow Road.
A detailed master plan for this section of the Arboretum will
be designed at a later date.
Open Space Character:
This view of Big Hollow was taken from
the southwest corner. Its perspective helps create a sense
of appreciation for the value of "greenways" as a refuge from
highways, parking lots, and buildings.
The preliminary plan determines that the dominant space organization
of the Arboretum should be naturalistic, with an emphasis on large,
informal open areas of pasture, prairie, and turf surrounded by
tree plantings, hedgerows, and woodlands. It is intended that
the existing pastoral character of the site would be largely retained
as the site is transformed from agricultural to Arboretum use.
In applying this concept of open space to the botanic gardens,
Sasaki Associates, Inc., emphasized the importance of converting
the former pasture along Park Avenue into a park-like landscape,
filled with seasonal interest and a sense of tranquility. Visual
unity is especially essential, requiring that careful attention
be devoted to the harmonious composition of plant textures, colors,
size, and shape in concert with curvilinear pathways.
MTR has applied these principles by converting the low-lying
field section along Park Avenue (which serves as a storm water
recharge area) into a "marsh meadow," where tall switchgrass,
which is tolerant of storm water run-off, will mimic the motion
of rippling water with each breeze. There will also be a winter
garden along the driveway to the education center's front door,
and a four-seasons garden flanking the lawn panel leading up the
slope to the conservatory's terrace. These gardens would be open
to the public at all times via pathways that connect both intersections
on Park Avenue with the path along the perimenter of the marsh
meadow, and up the slope to the walled gardens and to the education
Trees such as these provide valuable shelter for wildlife
in the Arboretum's Hartley Wood. The Arboretum will help
to educate students and the public about habitats common
in central Pennsylvania.
The proposed character of the natural areas is based on the
retention of the natural land form and the retention, reinforcement,
and restoration of the natural flora. It is also important that
open views across Big Hollow and from Overlook Heights be retained
so that the expanse of the landscape can be perceived and the
visual variety of open fields and shaded woodlands can be maintained.
The Sasaki plan intends that, to the extent possible, surrounding
buildings and roadways should be screened from view. The visitor
should experience scenery that is rural and that has depth and
complexity; all elements that detract from the clarity of that
experience should be visually blocked or subordinated. The perimeter
plantings along developed edges should be sufficiently dense to
create the illusion that the viewer is truly in a rural setting,
free of urban influences. The Arboretum area that adjoins Fox
Hollow Road should be planted in woodlands with the objective
of enhancing the visual continuity of the Big Hollow landscape
in spite of the fact that it is broken by the Mount Nittany Expressway
and Fox Hollow Road at this location.
The trace fracture line plantings will introduce a complementary element of geometry into the natural areas, somewhat reminiscent of agricultural hedgerows, but simultaneously "natural" in their expression of the pattern of the underlying bedrock geology. The fracture line allées will be among the most memorable experiences in the Arboretum landscape and express an order that is unique to the region and the site.
The tracks across this field were made
by agricultural vehicles. In the future, trails will also
be created for use by hikers and bicyclists.
The internal system of roads and trails proposed in the preliminary
Arboretum plan is largely based on the pattern of existing farm
and service roads. Big Hollow Road and the historic Bellefonte
Central Railroad bed are maintained as the major north-south linkages.
Additional roads are proposed to connect the Overlook Heights
Teaching and Research Area to the main entrance and education
center on Bigler Road. The existing farm road that connects Overlook
Heights to the north end of Big Hollow Road is adjusted to provide
a direct and more pleasing alignment. In general, the roads in
the Arboretum's preliminary master plan are designed to fit the
contours of the existing terrain and follow continuous curvilinear
alignments that evoke a sense of harmony with the natural setting.
The only exceptions to this approach are the trace fracture line
trails and the existing straight line sections of Big Hollow Road.
It is intended that all of the major roads of the Arboretum be suitable for purposes of maintenance access and vehicle access for faculty, students, and staff. General public access would be confined to the parking lot on Bigler Road and a small parking lot on Fox Hollow Road, except for special events which may allow public vehicular access to the Overlook Heights Teaching and Research Area. A small parking lot may also be desirable in the future at the end of East Aaron Drive.
The Sasaki plan suggests that the historic Bellefonte Central
Railroad bed be developed as a recreational path and bicycle way
similar in character to the McKee Street bicycle way. Pedestrian
paths are proposed for the trace fracture allées, for access to
the forest plant communities, and for all-weather access throughout
the intensively developed area around the education center. The
pedestrian trail and walk system ties into the Park Avenue crosswalks
at Bigler Road and Shortlidge Road.
Because the Arboretum was able to obtain funding for design
and construction, a major artery in this proposed circulation
system - the first section of the Bellefonte
Central Rail Trail - opened in May 2006. The second phase
of this trail was completed in July 2007.
Source: Howard Nuernberger
the Arboretum's Open House in May 2000 hike up the hill
out of Big Hollow. The hollow is a natural depression in
the landscape that forms a tranquil refuge from the sounds
of traffic nearby.