A walk across the University of Montana campus is a walk through a living museum of shrubs and trees. The entire campus was designated as the official arboretum of Montana in 1991, and a new interactive space is being constructed in honor of the arboretum’s 25th anniversary.
The space dedicated to the arboretum is being constructed between the University Center, Main Hall and the Natural Sciences Building.
According to Giles Thelen of Native Yards, the landscaping company working on the project, the first phase was completed on Sept. 30, where there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
For the first phase of the interactive space, Thelen and his crew created a circular intersection of two walkways out of locally-sourced decomposed granite, which allows water to seep through to the root system beneath. There is a ring of boulders around the center, which will feature either a focal plant or art at the epicenter.
Kelly Chadwick, an arboretum committee member and the University Center gardener, said simplicity was the predominant idea when designing the area.
“Our concept was to have something low-profile,” Chadwick said. “We didn’t want to have another structure. We didn’t want to have another building.”
After an architect friend suggested the location 15 years ago, Chadwick has pushed for the project, but the committee only recently found time and money to create the space. According to Chadwick, because the arboretum was designated without government funding, the committee spends most of its time dealing with the impact of campus construction and other issues instead of proactively working on the arboretum.
“We do have a master plan for campus that we are trying to implement,” said Adam Coe, a staff arborist and groundskeeper at UM. “One example of the master plan was planting the trees around the Oval.”
Coe and Chadwick hope the master plan will usher in more support and awareness for the arboretum and keep the committee focused on larger goals.
The arboretum covers the campus and is divided into eight forest regions to represent different areas of North America, with an emphasis on trees native to Montana, which, in Coe’s experience, can sometimes be a hassle.
“Native species aren’t always the best species for landscape,” Coe said, explaining that species from Europe and the East have spent hundreds of years in urban settings and have adapted accordingly, whereas native species have not.
Despite this, the new interactive space will host native Montana species exclusively.
“Part of our mission is to just have it be educational but also be a place where people can come and be and relax,” Chadwick said.
The funding for the project came from two anonymous donors. More money will have to be raised before completion, but Chadwick said she would rather take time to create a quality space than rush the construction. The circular-designed walkway will feature signs explaining important timelines and information about the arboretum and a place for people to sit on benches.
“We want a usable space for students,” Coe said. “That’s part of why we have such a nice campus. I think the physical appearance of that campus is a huge factor in enrollment, so we definitely encourage people to use our grounds.”
The second phase of the project, which will include planting foliage and putting up informational signs, is set to be completed this spring.