Preliminary Arboretum Master Plan
This document describes how approximately 370 acres of University property can be converted from farmland and woods into an arboretum at the very center of a rapidly growing urban area. A committee of Penn State faculty and staff conceived and outlined the plan, and it was given shape and form by a well-known firm of professional consultants. To say more about the plan’s history is probably unnecessary, but such a brief description will not suffice for those readers who are perhaps as interested in its origin as in what it says. So we shall name some names – not so much to credit the principals as to accredit their product and explain its genesis.
A chronicle of recent efforts to build an arboretum at Penn State begins with the appointment in July 1972 of a Committee on Penn State Arboretum by Provost Russell Larson. The committee’s original members were J. Robert Nuss, Craig Oliver, Paul Pierson, Glenn Steyers, and Darrell Walker (chair). Their report, issued in January 1973, advocated the development of an arboretum on 320 acres of land extending north of Park Avenue to behind the Overlook Heights residential area. In September 1973, the Board of Trustees recommended that the University-owned portion of this land (the Mitchell Property was then still privately owned) be reserved for an arboretum. The committee produced a promotional booklet and started a small nursery, but its efforts languished by the late 1970s for lack of funds to carry the project forward.
If nothing else, the 1970s initiative was successful in rekindling interest in an arboretum at Penn State – interest that had been largely dormant since an earlier initiative in the 1930s. The idea took on new momentum in the early 1990s as a result of the University’s purchase of the Mitchell Property and as preparations began for campus master planning and a new capital campaign. Activity was resumed in October 1994 when Associate Vice President James Wagner appointed an Arboretum Task Force of personnel from the Office of Physical Plant (John Joseph and David Zehngut) and faculty from the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences (Perry Morgan, J. Robert Nuss, Kim Steiner, and Stephen Wallner), Arts and Architecture (George Dickie, Eliza Pennypacker, and Kenneth Tamminga), and Science (Carl Keener). Stephen Wallner chaired the Task Force until its report was issued in July 1995. In January 1996, the next steps of the Task Force (now led by Kim Steiner) were charted in a meeting with Provost John Brighton, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz, Dean Neil Porterfield, Interim Dean James Starling, and others. A fundamental issue was whether the College of Agricultural Sciences would relinquish to the Arboretum a rather large parcel of agricultural research lands. Fortunately, then as now, the Task Force and its plan have had unwavering support from the leadership of that college.
As an outgrowth of the January 1996 meeting, Penn State hired Sasaki Associates, Inc., Watertown, Massachusetts, to prepare a preliminary master plan for the Arboretum. This document describes that plan, prepared by Joseph Hibbard and David Mittelstadt under the general oversight of the Arboretum Task Force. The plan is intended to be supplementary to the University Park Master Plan prepared by Johnson, Johnson & Roy, Inc., and the Task Force has worked closely with that firm to ensure that all recommendations are consistent and compatible.
The realization of a Penn State Arboretum will depend upon the generosity of private donors who are willing to fund, in whole or in part, the creation of the elements of this plan. The Arboretum will be a place of beauty, an important cultural feature of the University and the community. However, the perceptive reader will understand that this by itself would be only a partial achievement of our aspirations for the Penn State Arboretum. The Task Force envisions an Arboretum that is not merely an agreeable place but also a facility – a locus of intercollege activity contributing importantly to the teaching, research, and outreach missions of the University. This transformation of the physical Arboretum into a programmatic facility will depend not so much upon private donors as upon the creative energy of faculty and administrators across the University. We are eager to engage the Penn State community in that venture.