After 25 years of effort by the WSU Arboretum Committee and supporters, the “backbone” of a WSU Pullman arboretum is being set in place — a serpentine pathway running from the Alumni Center, crossing Wilson Road and meandering up and around the adjacent hillside.

Designed by Capital Planning and Development (CPD) and jumpstarted by a generous gift of $117,000 from the Alumni Association, the pathway will facilitate development of a campus arboretum representing various habitats, such as prairie flora, that can tolerate the Palouse climate.

The pathway will be made of concrete with leaf patterns imprinted here and there. There also will be small plazas — as meeting places — along the path, according to Keith Bloom, CPD project manager. “Right now there are just concrete retaining walls, but with future funding they can be faced with decorative stone. This pathway isn’t an end in itself, but really the toehold for future opportunities.”

Gift to the future

Rhonda Kromm, Alumni Association board member, serves as a liaison between the Arboretum Committee (AC) and the Alumni Association. When approached by AC members last year, Kromm felt passionately that this was something the association should support. With the encouragement of Tim Pavish, association executive director, Kromm presented the vision and possibilities to the 2004 fall board meeting and was delighted when the board agreed to fund the entire first stage of the walkway.

“We wanted to create a park-like setting connected to the Alumni Center (and favorably close to Ferdinand’s) where students can go to relax and graduates can come back for photo opportunities,” said Kromm. “Once it is planted, we hope to add some unique bronze statues or possibly granite benches. Graduating classes may also be able to donate special trees, bushes or flowers. We want to make it something all alumni can contribute to.

“The campus can only really grow to the east, and we hope the arboretum will become an island amid the concrete and buildings. Maybe 100 years down the road, people will wonder who thought of this — a place of beauty. It will be our gift to the future.”

Vision for education

Though the ground is just being broken on this project, long-range visions are already in place for how it will be used and what it will mean to the WSU campus. “Our primary goal for the arboretum has always been as an educational tool,” explained Alice Spitzer, AC co-chair and WSU reference librarian.

“The mission of the arboretum emphasizes the function, beauty, ecology and diversity of trees, shrubs and other plants that are hardy in the Palouse region,” she said. “It essentially will be an outdoor classroom where students, faculty, staff and the public can identify, compare and enjoy a variety of plant species — and it also offers research opportunities to a broad range of disciplines.”

Sean Michael, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, actually foresees the university having two arboreta — the official one as well as a less structured one that encompasses all plant species across the entire campus. “It’s important to look at it that way,” he said, “as the university doesn’t have enough money, space or time to replicate such a large number of species.”

The big (green) picture

Much as Michaels foresees, the arboretum already is tied to a larger open-space concept of a greenbelt detailed in the master plan for the university. Several locations across campus will be involved, taking advantage of a range of growing conditions.

An example is the Cougar Pride Days Ponds near the rock wall along the highway from Moscow on the southwest entrance to Pullman. These ponds were built by CPD when WSU purchased the land from Whitman County.

AC members and WSU employees Bobbi Ryder, Melanie Brown and Rod Sayler spearheaded the effort to landscape and maintain this site. Funds, materials and equipment were donated by a number of departments including Environmental Science and Regional Planning, Natural Resource Sciences, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Environmental Health and Safety, the Office of Real Estate and CPD.

History of growth

The earliest proposals for a campus arboretum took shape around 1975 with the formation of the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee, according to Kappy Brun, Facility Operations grounds supervisor. Over the years, as they waited for approval of their recommendations, committee members kept busy with other projects. Originally volunteering as advisers on university landscaping and design, they soon branched out to initiate policies on tree donation, protection and replacement.

The committee still was waiting into the 1990s, when Leo Bustad, AC chair and former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, advocated establishment of the Centennial Tree Planting — a row of 100 trees planted on the west end of campus near the president’s home.

Also during this time, land on the northeast edge of campus was designated for Round Top Park, a memorial to former professor Jerry Newbrey. Along the way, the committee also helped organize the campus vegetative inventory, which maps the location and condition of all university plant species.

Ideas take root with trees

By 1998, Brun had identified the Wilson Road site as a possible setting for an arboretum; shortly thereafter, an AC proposal was accepted by Sam Kindred, then vice president of Business Affairs. The first tree — a small blue spruce — was planted on the hillside during official groundbreaking in October 1999.

In 2001, the Horticulture Club sweetened the effort with the donation of an irrigation system for the site.

Also that year, since there was no room left in the west side grove by the president’s residence, the Horticulture Club established a new President’s Grove at the arboretum. Each spring at commencement time, the club sponsors the planting of a specially donated tree in the grove.

This year, President V. Lane Rawlins planted a Persian parrotia among a group of pink-flowered Yoshino cherry trees.

“We need these kinds of open spaces,” he said. “It is interesting to watch the arboretum develop — to think that some day it will be a showplace for the university.”

Trees as memorials

The growth and development of the arboretum will depend, in large part, on the donations of alumni and other interested groups. One way to donate is through the Endowed Tree Program, an opportunity to honor a person or commemorate a special event by sponsoring the planting and lifetime maintenance of a tree in the arboretum.

Tax-deductible donations may be sent to the WSU Arboretum Fund, c/o WSU Foundation, Pullman, WA 99164-1042. For information, please contact Kappy Brun, Grounds Supervisor, WSU Department of Facilities Operations, Pullman, WA 99164-1150; phone 335-9067; or e-mail arboretum@wsu.edu.