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F&M Seeking Tree Campus USA Status for its 'Arboretum'

Six years after Franklin & Marshall College designated a 52-acre portion of the campus an arboretum, the College is advocating for an official botanical recognition, as a "Tree Campus USA" school, from the Arbor Day Foundation

"Having that designation would demonstrate to the public our commitment to having an arboretum and to maintaining it for the purpose of sustainability," said David Proulx, vice president for finance and administration.

A "Tree Campus USA" school is required to have an advisory committee, tree-care plan, tree program with dedicated annual funding, annual Arbor Day observance, and a service-learning project. F&M has fulfilled most of these requirements, and the College's final step is assembling an advisory committee, Proulx said. The College plans to apply for the designation during the current academic year.

  • Tree Campus USA story
  • More than a 1,000 trees shade Franklin & Marshall's core campus, providing shade for the College community and providing a host of environmental benefits. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

Proulx serves on the panel overseeing F&M's Sustainability Master Plan, adopted in October 2012. Among its initiatives, the comprehensive plan designated the 202-acre campus a natural, academic resource. The plan provides for tree management and inventory.

F&M spends between $30,000 and $50,000 annually to care for trees and plants, Proulx said. The core campus -- bordered by Harrisburg, College, Buchanan and Race avenues -- has more than 1,000 trees, representing 168 species. That tract in 2007 was designated the Caroline S. Nunan Arboretum, in honor of the late emerita trustee and Lancaster philanthropist and conservationist.

The Morton Register of Arboreta, the leading accreditation agency for arboretums, lists 46 self-designated arboretums in Pennsylvania. Seventeen are college campuses. Three -- Haverford College, Chatham University and University of Pennsylvania -- are Morton-accredited. The Arbor Day Foundation also recognizes those three schools, along with six others across the state, as "Tree Campus USA" schools.

Why Trees Matter

Director of Grounds Ted Schmid monitors the health of F&M's trees, employing an arborist when he spots disease or a dead limb that needs to be culled. He is mindful of the institutional and historic importance of campus trees, particularly the Protest Tree, a large, white ash planted a century ago outside Distler House.

From 1960 onward, students used the tree to express their discontent -- hanging a College newspaper editor in effigy because of his political editorial, stringing up an unappetizing cafeteria meal, or nailing up posters to protest everything from food to war to administration changes.

"That tree means a lot to people," Schmid said, noting it has been trimmed and cut over the years to fend off disease.

  •  Tree Campus USA
  • More than 100 years old, the Protest Tree outside Distler House reflects the endurance of 226-year-old Franklin & Marshall College and liberal arts education. (Photo by Melissa Hess) 

Tree planting has been a welcome task of faculty, students and staff since the mid-19th century. For more than 160 years, members of the campus community have planted saplings in locations where the trees' arching branches would reach out to shade buildings, walkways and lawns.

Storms and disease have taken some trees over the years, but many live on, such as the Silver Linden on the southwest front of Keiper Liberal Arts building. With a trunk far too large for anyone to wrap his or her arms around, the tree is estimated at more than a century old, Schmid said.

The trees also protect the environment, intercepting the rain and thus slowing the rate and volume of storm water runoff, said Carl Pike, F&M's Harry W. and Mary B. Huffnagle professor of botany, emeritus. They are critical to keeping local streams and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay clean.

An added benefit, Pike said, is the calming effect trees have on the mind. "Research shows that the presence of green adds to people's well-being," he said.

A History of Stewardship

Before retiring in 2008, former F&M supervisory laboratory technician Carroll Shearer, a tree enthusiast who helped plant and care for the campus trees, wrote a recollection on the wide variety of native and non-native trees the College planted between 1986 and 2006.

"I believe, with the exception of the first tree plantings on campus in the mid-1800s, more diversity in landscape material has been introduced over the past 25-30 years than any other period in the history of the campus," Shearer wrote.

Describing a tree planting in the spring of his junior year, Henry K. Douglas, class of 1858, noted in his book on campus life, "The Douglas Diary":

"Where will I be when those trees shade the ground around with their thick foliage? Who will recline under their spreading branches when I am far away, or perhaps beneath the 'cold, cold ground?' The future alone will reveal."