University plans arboretum expansion

Austin Ramsey
News Editor

A tall oak tree marks the entrance to the Murray State Arboretum.

Austin Ramsey/The News

Hidden from view among blooming limelight hydrangea and Morning Glory, and shaded by towering oaks and hickory trees, a single man toils with weeds in a flowerbed.

It’s a typical day for Matt Chadwick, manager of the Murray State Arboretum. He said he calls the arboretum his baby.

Chadwick said the University Arboretum is a fully accessible horticulture display, public garden and educational laboratory at the University’s Pullen Farm just south of campus. He can be seen daily across the nearly 14-acre plot, tending to the five different microcosmic biomes.

“I pretty much do everything at the arboretum – from pulling weeds to going out and getting donations, to hosting events,” he said.

But what Chadwick has called his home away from home since taking his position in August has undergone a significant amount of change over the last month.

The arboretum, part of the Pullen Farm complex, takes up the east side of the facility, featuring open woodlands, a savanna, an open prairie, an oak and hickory forest and wetlands. Cutting through each biome is an 0.8-mile-long concrete walking path. The area is open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk.

The Hutson School of Agriculture broke ground on the project in 2009, and since, students and faculty of the school have done most of the development.

“The agriculture department really wanted a place that horticulture students could come and work on and have something to be proud of,” he said.

A horticulture student himself for his undergraduate studies, Chadwick said he remembers drawing out intensive plans for the first sections, including a two-acre botanical garden dotted with weathered trees near the farm’s entrance.

Starting last winter and into the summer, more garden beds were constructed, featuring native plants and trees to the area, he said.

Now, with significant donations from the Friends of the Arboretum expansion support group and funds from the Horton School of Agriculture, the project has been able to continue at a quicker pace.

This fall and winter, Chadwick said plans are to construct a 25-foot mountain in the extreme southeastern corner of an existing cornfield. Atop the mountain, he said, will be a small pavilion overlooking a pond to the west.

Also planned is a patio behind the arboretum’s main pavilion made of sandstone from a local quarry, sitting next to a smaller mountain of conifer trees, he said.

“It won’t really be a mountain,” Chadwick said. “It’ll be a simulated mountain of conifers that looks like a mountain to the eyes.”

Chadwick said the current designs stem from the designer of Murray State’s zen garden.

“We brought in Dr. David Slawson back in the summer,” he said “He helped us design all of this.”

Chadwick said he has been so excited to see the projects slowly come to life. It has been a step-by-step process, starting with gathering community support and managing that support long enough to receive donations.

“We’re seeing probably 25 to 50 people come through here daily now,” he said.

Pat Williams, associate professor of agriculture, said he, too, has enjoyed watching and working among the plants and trees. He said Murray State’s arboretum has the potential to draw people from outside the community.

“An arboretum is a drawing mechanism for individuals to visit Murray from surrounding counties, across the Commonwealth and even the nation,” Williams said. “Established arboretums draw in researchers and visitors and ultimately are good for the regional tourism.”

Willams said several existing classes use the facility daily as a laboratory and learning experience.

“It is our hope that more programs explore how they can utilize the arboretum area to enhance their current programs,” he said.

Toni Cortez, senior from Almo, Ky., said her experiences interning at the University arboretum over the summer were positive.

“I love what I am able to do at the Pullen Farm and arboretum,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to add something beautiful that will make people smile.”

Contact Ramsey at aramsey5@murraystate.edu.