Arboretum Association Works to Protect SMCM’s Fragile Beauty

Many of the students, faculty, and staff of St. Mary’s know of its often striking natural beauty. That’s why Lesley Urgo and others on campus are organizing to make an even more beautiful and ecologically-friendly campus.

Urgo has plans to designate the area in and around campus an arboretum, and though it has just begun the arboretum project has already integrated itself into efforts at preservation already occurring within and without of the campus community.

Urgo said that beyond its ties to the campus’s physical plant and the larger goal of environmental stewardship, the project was also partnering with Historic St. Mary’s City. This partnership would ultimately amount to around 1000 acres of land being encompassed under the arboretum distinction.

The arboretum association is also closely tied to the Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful project, which through clean-up efforts is also working to beautify the campus.

Urgo said that she was inspired to start her work upon her first visit to the campus, which she described as “simply stunning”. She also acknowledged that she was far from the first individual to begin beautifying the campus, and added, “the people here have done a lot of things in the past 25 years to make an environmental impact” and that “we’re really just putting a name to what we’ve already been doing.”

An arboretum, according to Urgo, is a “place where trees, plants, and shrubs are named for educational and aesthetic purposes…basically a place where the environment is valued.”

There is no single definition for what constitutes an arboretum, but Urgo said that most college arboretums tend to either be historical, displaying the native flora and fauna of the region, or exploratory as to the myriad of plants which can grow in a specific region.

She said, “we here at St. Mary’s have the opportunity to blend those different trusts…what really distinguishes us at St. Mary’s is a very fragile ecosystem. We have an opportunity to do social service to take care of this fragile ecosystem and make it quite special.”

Work by the association began with workshops which took place last month, meant to help educate attendees on the practical and environmental advantages of rain gardens. Urgo said that these workshops, meant to educate the local community as well as students on ways of dealing with the challenges of waterfront ecology on their own land, would be a major component of the association’s efforts.

Urgo also said that beautification projects were also a major focus of the arboretum association, a fact which became apparent this past Friday when students and college staff ad faculty came out to help plant native trees and plants outside the backs of Dorchester and Prince George’s Halls.

Superintendent of Grounds Kevin Mercer, who supervised much of the planting which occurred behind Dorchester, said, “It’s a bigger turnout than I thought [it’d be]. This place needed a lot of attention.” Student Trustee and volunteer senior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall echoed the sentiment, and said, “I was just here to lend a helping hand, but they seem to have plenty.”

Turnout was so high, in fact, that students were able to complete the planting about an hour ahead of schedule despite a shortage of tools.

The arboretum association is also in the process of setting up the trappings of a more “traditional” arboretum, with tagging of flora taking place around campus. Urgo said that she hoped that this tagging could eventually allow for self-guided walking tours, but added, “it will probably take us 20 years to do it all.”

According to Urgo, all of these projects are just the beginning of the arboretum association’s work, and more beautification projects and workshops were being planned for the spring. Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities Chip Jackson, who works along with the arboretum, added, “this is not a one-time shot. This is an ongoing effort.”

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