Trees still a solid commodity at Mont Alto campus

April 20, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MONT ALTO, Pa. - At one time, the arboretum at the Penn State Mont Alto campus numbered more than 1,500 trees. The last count, in 1967, showed that 671 of them were still standing.

That number stood until it went up to 674 with the planting of three maple trees this week on the side of Emmanuel Chapel near the entrance to the campus.

The three maples - one sugar and two red - were dedicated in a brief ceremony Tuesday in conjunction with the upcoming celebrations of Arbor Day and Earth Day later this month.


The trees, depending on their species, will turn red, orange or yellow in the fall, said Craig Houghton, director of forest technology at the school.

Robert Rumler, 90, of Chambersburg, Pa., a 1936 Penn State graduate and member of the Penn State Mont Alto Advisory Board, donated $2,000 for an endowment to buy, plant and care for two of the trees. The Kiwanis Foundation, an arm of the Chambersburg Evening Kiwanis Club, donated $1,000 for the third tree.

"I have a great interest in this campus and its development," Rumler said. "It's a beautiful campus and we need to keep it that way. There's nothing more appropriate, in my mind, than for an arboretum in a forestry school."

Penn State Mont Alto began as a forestry school in 1903. It became part of the Penn State system in 1963 and today offers a two-year associate's degree in forestry.

David Gnage, campus CEO, said about half of the school's approximately 55 forestry students continue on to four-year degrees at the main campus at University Park, while the other half use their associate's degrees to find jobs in the forestry and related fields.

The school's overall student population was 1,030 at the start of the academic year, Gnage said.

He said George Wirt, first director of the forestry school, recognized the importance of establishing an arboretum on the campus as a living laboratory for the students.

"He sent students out to the mountains and woods around here to bring in different native species to plant on the campus," Gnage said.

"Not satisfied with that, he started to get exotic (nonnative to Pennsylvania) species to plant on the campus," Gnage said. "There were about 50 different exotic species by 1906. By 1915, there were more than 100."

Those trees came from the United States and around the world, in seeds and seedlings.

"Wirt begged for seeds from all over the world," Gnage said.

Some prime examples that have stood through the decades on the campus include a Nikko fir from Japan, an Amur corktree from China, a Japanese larch and a stand of Norway spruce.

Unique to the campus, according to Gnage, is "the meeting of the pines" area where stands of species generic to the southern United States were planted near stands of pines that grow in the northern part of the country.

In 2002, an arboretum advisory council was formed and an arboretum master plan was drafted and approved to protect the trees.

The master plan established eight different groves on the campus, each with a unique identity, Gnage said.

"For example, there is an Asian grove, oaks of the world, conifers of the world, an area for species from the western United States and one for southern U.S. species," he said.

Development of the campus over the years took its toll as trees were cut down to make room for buildings.

The developers of a campus master plan were given a copy of the arboretum master plan.

They were told it was "sacred," Gnage said.

"The existing historical groves were to be treated the same as existing buildings. Any new construction can not damage the groves," he said.

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