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Mount Pisgah Arboretum


 A Brief Early History

by Theodore W. Palmer 9/27/2011.

In 1965 Barbara Newton volunteered to organize the United Nations Day observance for the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.  The national office suggested planting a grove of trees from around the World to symbolize international peace and friendship.  She was deeply inspired.

In 1967 Eugene Mayor Ed Cone appointed Barbara to the Mayor’s Committee on International Cooperation.  In June, 1969 the Eugene City Council accepted the idea of an International Court of Trees with the backing of Mayor Les Anderson.  By this time the idea had evolved into having students from overseas each plant a tree from their own country.

Barbara was not originally familiar with the word “arboretum” but her quest was soon joined by a number of local leaders who had long wanted to start an arboretum in Lane County—particularly Howard Buford, Head of Lane County Planning (and my close friend), Paul Beistel, Head of the Lane County Park Department,  Ev Smith, Head of the Eugene Park Department,  Duane Hatch, Head of the Agriculture Extension Service for Lane County, John Phillips, Professor of Forestry at LCC, Bill Berry, Head (?) of the local lumber men’s association  and  Ole Olson a local tree enthusiast.  On September 18, 1969 the Ad Hoc Committee on an International Arboretum had its first meeting.

When I accepted a tenured professorship at the University of Oregon in the spring of 1970 (without knowing anything about this group) I vowed that if I lived in Lane County there would be an arboretum here.  Soon after we moved to Eugene in the summer of 1970 my wife Laramie learned of Barbara’s effort and I joined the group of about 15 people by then deeply committed to this idea.  We considered eight (while I was involved, Barbara says a total of 13) sites seriously.  When Governor Tom McCall was persuaded by a large number of local leaders to preserve Mount Pisgah as a park, our group quickly chose essentially our original 118 acre site.  The International Arboretum became a key part of the ideas for the development of the whole park.  Since Howard had spearheaded the effort to acquire Mount Pisgah, the 2,363 acre park was named the Howard Buford Recreation Area when he retired.

In 1972 Fran Kemler prepared a Statement of Purpose, By Laws and Articles of Incorporation.  After intensive discussion they were all accepted.  On January 3, 1973 the Articles of Incorporation were signed and filed, with my house as the legal address of the International Arboretum Association (IAA).  The original brochure seeking charter members of the IAA states the purpose of the association as:

 To establish, maintain and perpetuate an arboretum of highest quality for the public benefit; to acquire and grow plant specimens from our own country as well as from other countries around the world; to encourage awareness of both ecology and the oneness of mankind; to encourage and assist education on all levels in the arts and natural sciences; and to provide facilities for the public enjoyment and use of its gardens.

 This statement has changed very little over the past 38 years.

On April 24, 1974 the IAA joined the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.  On May 27 many of  the 100 original Charter Members toured the site.

At that time the whole site, but particularly the entrance area, was choked with blackberries, broom and poison oak, trash and collapsing buildings.  The Meadow Road was essentially the only way to gain entry and tall blackberries completely hid the Coast Fork of the Willamette from sight.

At first the IAA did not have plans, money or enough organization to begin development of the site.  With the help of local civic groups we began to cut down black berries in the entrance area and remove or burn the trash that had accumulated there.

From the beginning many people were excited by the idea of a local arboretum.  We were given hundreds of trees, including many specimens of valuable, highly prized species.  (A 1973 grant application says we then had between 300 and 400 trees.)   We got permission to plant them at the City of Eugene’s holding beds where the sewage plant is now.  (The final fate of these trees is a bit of a tragedy.  Long before the new sewage plant was finally built, we were told we needed to remove our trees.  Duane Hatch borrowed a tractor and plowed up a holding bed along the Coast Fork near the Barn.  We delayed moving our trees.  When Bill Coslow finally organized a rescue party on a horribly rainy weekend in the winter, we found that most of the valuable ones had already been taken.  What was left we planted in our holding bed and irrigated it for a number of years.  Beavers came down the Coast Fork and removed all the good tasting ones.  Phoebe Staples, Tom and I replanted some with sharp needles next to the (then nude) swimming hole at the Boards request.  None were ever replanted as originally intended.)

On  February 26, 1975 George Jette presented his Dream Scheme master plan.  The Board and Planning Committee (which I chaired) accepted his ideas for the entrance area including parking lots, turn-around, stone walls, ceremonial entrance path and for the first trail loop consisting of the Zig-Zag, Plateau and South Boundary (now Jette) Trails.  However we rejected his idea of a one acre shallow lake where the White Oak Pavilion now stands and a group of headquarters and visitor center buildings where the Bufords’ Trail and Incense Cedar Trails now meet.  The lake was a victim of three considerations:  (1)  A child had just drowned in the Alton Baker Park lake;  (2)  The group wished to preserve the Quonset hut; and  (3) We felt that digging the large lake and keeping it full in the summer was beyond our capabilities.  The headquarters complex fell victim to the obvious need to have a road to it and at least a small parking lot near it, which George had not included in his scheme.

During the spring of 1975 John Phillips, who was IAA Vice-President and a Professor of Forestry at Lane Community College had his class create a vegetative map of the site.  It was not until October 15, 1975 that we signed a 30 year lease on the original 118 acre site.  (It had to be approved by Lane County, the State of Oregon (which actually owned the site at that time) and the United States Government which retained a five year interest in the land bought under a federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation grant.)

In March, 1976 we received our first and only Eugene Room Tax grant ($3,700).  George Jette and the students in a class he was teaching (particularly Andy March and Allison Halderman) began construction of a primitive version of the trail loop in the spring of 1976.   That summer Howard Buford, who had just retired, arranged a two year CETA grant to support five “disadvantaged” young people to work at the Arboretum.  As a volunteer he supervised them with help from his wife, Ardys, Bill Coslow (in charge of landscape work around the County buildings) and me.  The first CETA crew consisted of two very talented, knowledgeable and hard working female cousins, Leicha and Yvonne Lundy and three young men with limited work experience or discipline.  The Lundys built the picnic area tables and stabilized and re-roofed the Visitor Center Building (called Arboretum Headquarters back then).  In September Howard was formally put in charge of the site which simply recognized what he had been doing for at least six months.

The first CETA crew pulled down the lovely but decrepit pioneer barn in front of the 1947 Quonset hut and several other derelict buildings, built Howard’s Bridge (able to support a loaded truck, but costing a total of $8.40) and two other pedestrian bridges.  We all considered the Plateau to be a key part of the site and Howard knew that we needed access to it by a truck like his big light green pickup, so he laid out what we originally called the Eight Foot Trail (for its design width) and later re-named Bufords’ Trail (for both Howard and Ardys).

On April 30, 1977 Mayors Ed Cone and Les Anderson presided at the planting of our first tree on site, a dawn redwood.

In July, 1977 we were very disappointed to receive only $5,000 of an expected $40,000 Bureau of Outdoor Recreation grant written by Howard and Paul Beistel.  We had been told the whole amount was almost certain. We were supposed to match this amount, and had detailed plans for the $80,000.  We eventually used the $5,000 to hire Lane County Public Works as a contractor to re-align the final steep descending section of the entrance road, to make some parking bays along the south end of the Lower Entrance Road and to construct the turn around all designed by George.

On June 15, 1978 the Board put me in charge of the site and the second CETA crew, due to Howard’s failing health and my experience supervising workers.  I had recently returned from a sabbatical leave as a Visiting Professor at Berkeley.  Even before this academic year sabbatical, Bill Coslow  (Vice-President in 1778-79 and 1988) and I had taken over some projects on the site from Howard.  From the beginning of work at the site George Jette, John Phillips  (Vice-President in 1775-76) and Fran Kemler (President in 1778-79) had been frequent visitors to the site and deeply involved in planning and decision making.  A bit later Duane Hatch (President in 1776-77), and even later Dave Wagner (President 1980, 81, 1984, 85) largely replaced George and John.

On July 28, 1978 the Board changed the name of the nonprofit corporation from International Arboretum Association (intended to portray our goal of international planting) to Friends of Mount Pisgah Arboretum after 79% of our members voted by mail 4 to 1 in favor of the new name.

In September of that year our infant organization hosted the Western Regional Meeting of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta with Bill Coslow in charge of this ambitious project.  There was a good deal of interest in our development around the country so the meeting was well attended.  A number of those attending had been involved in starting other arboreta.  Their message to us was clear and very discouraging to everyone in our organization.  They advised “Do not start planting until you have a Master Plan and the infrastructure in place to maintain everything you do.”  Our response was to immediately try to secure funding for a more comprehensive Master Plan.  Since we were just beginning to develop the site, we were turned down.

In the late summer of 1979 I briefly hired Tom LoCascio to work on the CETA crew.  On May 18, 1980 we held our first Wildflower Festival.  Later that year I solicited two grants ($10,000 and $5,000) (which were renewed for several year) allowing MPA to finally hire staff.  Rhoda Love was hired on October 1 as an administrative assistant soon after she completed her doctorate at the University of Oregon.  That same month we finally got the house on site, which had been promised to us in 1973.  It was occupied briefly by my student Paul L. Patterson III.  On April 1, 1981 Tom LoCascio was hired from among 55 applicants to work full time on site and live in the house.

By 1981, George, Howard and I had designed the majority of our present trails.  I had either supervised the building or personally built all these trails.  Gerry Gibbs, a troubled but very hard working and talented CETA worker, had stabilized the Great Meadow Barn and several trails, built a kiosk where the Tree-Round is now and several benches all using scrap material.

At the beginning of 1982 Eugene’s 4J School District cancelled their excellent Outdoor Education Program due to budget problems.  Mount Pisgah Arboretum formally started its Nature Education program in May of that year.  Originally Rhoda was in charge.  On October 31 we held our first Mushroom Festival.

Thus by this time (almost 30 years ago) MPA had attained much of its current structure.  It has continued to develop and expand since then.  I will simply list a few of our accomplishments since then:

1983  June 11           96 foot long Adkison Bridge in Water Garden completed

1984                           Small tractor named “Jack” purchased with funds from Ray and Lois Jackson.
Entrance Bridge built by Theodore.

1986  May                451 year old Douglas fir Tree Round exhibit completed. 

1988  May                Arboretum establishes its first office in the newly built Emerald Peoples Utility District building.

1988  May                The first (of five) federal Institute of Museum Services General Operating Support grant was awarded.
(No other United State arboretum got more than two.)

1988  May 15           Handicapped accessible rest rooms completed.

1988 to 1993            Master Plan undertaken and completed by publication.

1996  September 16      New 50 year lease for 209 acre area signed.

1999  August 26       Fire burns 123 acres in Upper Bowl to summit of Mt. Pisgah.

2002  May 31           Staff moves into new on-site, volunteer-built, office building.

2002 October 19       Theodore Trail (#17) completed by large work party.

2003 July 7              First summer camp begins at the Arboretum.

2005 June 19            White Oak Pavilion completed.

2005 July                  Entrance road, turn-around paved by Lane County Public Works.

2007                            New potable water system installed with well in South Meadow

and 3,000 gallon storage tank south of Great meadow Barn.  New

septic system allows conversion of chemical to flush toilets

2008 September 1          Brad van Appel hired as Executive Director.

2009 May 16            Two restroom and utility buildings east of the Pavilion completed.

2010 January            Beginning of interpretation plan funded by Hallador Foundation.

2011 September        Oak Savanna Trail completed by Theodore.

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