Campuses maintain arboretums for the benefit of all

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Walk around the peaceful, grassy campuses of local colleges and universities and you'll see an interesting mix of modern construction and some of the oldest living relics in the region.

In between the brick and mortar structures, you'll find stately trees -- some of which date back almost two centuries -- gracing these parklike settings.

At Waynesburg University, where the white oak (Quercus alba) is the school's official tree, a long row of oaks lines one side of the walk between Miller Hall and a fountain that fronts the campus.

"Past president Dr. Paul Stewart planted one oak a year between the 1930s and 1950s along the walkway and nearby park," said James Randolph, curator of the Waynesburg University museum.

Among the 245 trees on campus, a 30-foot-tall white oak with a three-foot circumference thought to have been planted in the 1930s dominates the landscape near Miller Hall. Also adding to the beauty of the campus are some very tall and aged linden trees, which look pretty healthy and vibrant, despite their age.

"Ten years ago, one of our students completed an inventory of trees, which our botany class uses to evaluate the health of the trees," said Dr. Janet Paladino, assistant professor of biology. "When one dies or is taken out, we plant a new one to take its place."

California University of Pennsylvania has some even older trees, some of which have been alive for nearly 200 years. According to the latest count, the university boasts a total of nearly 360 trees representing 76 species, the oldest of which, a giant sycamore, was planted in 1810. The campus also has a massive pin oak, which Dr. Robert Whyte, assistant professor of biology and environmental sciences, estimates to be about 150 years old.

"We also have other pin oaks that are fairly old, as well as three to six trees 100 years old or better," he said. "They're in pretty good condition, considering all the construction that's taken place on campus."

In 1994, professor Mitch Bailey and his students compiled a list of campus trees and printed a walking guide to the Quad area titled "California University of Pennsylvania Campus Arboretum."

The guide focuses on 62 trees and provides information such as location, species and common name and line drawings of the trees and leaves.

While the printed guide is still available by calling 724-938-4112, several of the trees listed were removed in 2002 because of declining heath and the logistics of construction projects.

To include new plantings, professor Thad Yorks and students compiled a virtual tour of the arboretum in 2004 and posted it on the Web.

"We're constantly updating the Internet guide, and the site's interactive map is fairly up to date and appropriate for those who may want to take a walking tour," Dr. Whyte said.

Currently, the university is compiling information for a new arboretum walking-tour brochure and it plans to install new signs on the trees.

"One primary mission of the arboretum is to educate and help the environment," Dr. Whyte said. "In our new plantings, we're putting an emphasis on trees native to Pennsylvania and would love to bring back disease-resistant species of native chestnut and elm trees. Currently, we have a total of 68 native species trees on campus."

Washington & Jefferson College also takes its horticultural assets seriously. The college currently is involved in a landscape master plan that is evaluating existing trees and making plans for new plantings. So far, Van Yahres Arborists have evaluated 100 trees on campus and targeted for removal those with health problems.

For years, Washington residents driving on College Street in springtime could enjoy the spectacle of a string of blooming crab apple trees that had beautified the campus for close to 30 years.

"We've lost two or three of the trees each year in windy conditions," said Jim Miller, landscape architect and the college's director of facilities. "So far, we've had to remove close to 14 others because they were in poor health."

At the moment, the campus is host to a huge elm on Maiden Street, a string of osage orange trees lining the walkway between Maiden Street and Strawberry Alley on the south end of campus, and some really old oak trees on the lawn of Old Main.

"I recently saw an archival photo from the turn of the last century that showed the oaks at a young age," Mr. Miller said. "That means they have to be at least 100 years old."

Dave Zuchowski is a freelance writer.


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