The Arboretum at Penn State

Arboretum Time Line

The Board of Trustees accepts the first campus development plan, created by New York City landscape architect Charles Lowrie. In addition to a system of roads, walks and buildings in a landscaped environment, the plan proposes maintaining the large stands of trees around campus and creating a botanical garden.

The Board of Trustees sets aside 25 acres in what is now the northeast corner of the golf course for an arboretum.

Landscape architect Warren H. Manning creates a comprehensive plan for the campus, including an arboretum. Manning confides to a trustee, “An arboretum . . . would not be practicable unless a very large endowment could be secured.”

Professor J.R. Bracken proposes a new site for an arboretum in the Thompson Spring area (along the current College Avenue). The senior classes of 1927-1931 pledge their class gifts for the project, but the Depression prevents the collection of enough funds to proceed.

The Board of Trustees renews approval of the Thompson Spring plan, but funding is still unavailable.

After a year of study, a committee appointed by Provost Russell Larson reports that the campus as a whole, with more than 750 species, should be recognized as an arboretum, but it also recommends that the tract of more than 300 acres be set aside for further development. The Board of Trustees approves the plan.

A fundraising effort is authorized, but the project languishes due to lack of support.

The University appoints a task force of faculty and staff to study the merits and feasibility of an arboretum.

Administrative leaders agree that the arboretum should be an important element in the campus master plan, and Sasaki Associates, Inc. is contracted to develop a preliminary plan for an arboretum on a 370-acre tract of undeveloped land adjacent to the University Park campus.

The Board of Trustees accepts the preliminary master plan by Sasaki Associates, Inc., in Watertown, Massachusetts, as part of the master plan for the campus, and Dr. Kim Steiner, professor of Forest Biology, is appointed part-time director by Provost Rodney Erickson.

“The Arboretum at Penn State” is approved as the name of the planned project. Marshall-Tyler-Rausch is hired to create a detailed plan for the 56-acre Mitchell Tract portion of the proposed arboretum site, bordering Park Avenue.

The Arboretum successfully applies for state funding to construct a pedestrian/bicycle trail along the old Bellefonte Central Railroad bed.

The Marshall-Tyler-Rausch plan for the Mitchell Tract is approved and becomes the focus of efforts to secure an eight-figure lead gift for the Arboretum.

The Hosler Oak, the Arboretum’s “witness tree,” becomes the first official planting in The Arboretum at Penn State. Construction on the Bellefonte Central Rail Trail is completed.

Charles H. “Skip” Smith agrees to donate $10 million to fund initial construction of the botanic gardens, including improvements to the front thirty acres of the Mitchell Tract, five acres of developed gardens, the Overlook Pavilion, and the beginnings of a tree collection.

Construction is completed in September, and in October Penn State’s Senior Class Gift Committee announces that a boardwalk over the Marsh Meadow in the Arboretum will be the class of 2010’s gift to the University.

On April 25, the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens, named in honor of the donor’s father, are dedicated by the University, and quickly become popular with campus and community visitors. The Arboretum begins renting venues for social events. Among the first community events are a music festival, forest fest, pumpkin festival, and plant sale.

A large sundial, a gift from Dr. Joel N. Myers, founder of AccuWeather, is created by sculptor Mark Mennin and installed on the Joan Milius Smith Esplanade. The granite sculpture is both a functionally accurate timepiece and artistic attraction.

Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz and Charles H. “Skip” Smith make leadership gifts totaling $4.1 million to create the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden. A gift from Marcia Day will provide endowment support for children’s education programs.

Working with Gund Partnership, the University completes preliminary plans for an education center, conservatory, planetarium, associated gardens, and an expanded parking lot. When completed, these ambitious projects will truly take the Arboretum into the first ranks of university arboreta and botanic gardens.

Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden, designed by Emmanuel Didier of EDAW/AECOM, opens on July 7. It is a unique space that inspires wonder, encourages visitors to explore nature, and celebrates the plants, animals, and geography of central Pennsylvania. The official dedication is held on September 7.

Construction of a three-acre Pollinator and Bird Garden begins in the fall of 2019. This new garden space is unique in its ambitious design and intent: to educate the public about all of our region’s insect pollinator species and the broad range of resident and migratory birds. Sections of the garden will also be used for research to help us better understand and protect the ecosystems that support these species.

To accomplish its goals for the new garden, the Arboretum works with a large team of Penn State-based and outside experts, including scientists in Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, and faculty, staff and community members of the Arboretum’s Avian Education Advisory Committee. The innovative garden is designed by Emmanuel Didier, founding principal of Didier Design Studio in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and the planting design is created by Claudia West with Phyto Studio based in Arlington, Virginia.

Although construction is stopped for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021, the new Pollinator and Bird Garden opens to the public during the week of June 28, 2021, thereby increasing the acreage of developed gardens by over 60%.

The dedication is held on October 1, 2021.