The Clarence Arboretum


(This 897th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 1, 2008.)



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The Clarence Arboretum in mid-May 2008


Many years ago when I lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, I served on the Norwalk Green Preservation Committee. Our role was to protect a lovely mid-city square graced by giant shade trees amid broad lawns. That square must now be almost 200 years old. It was created only a few years after the British burned Norwalk during the Revolutionary War.


I thought about that park when I recently visited the area currently being developed to serve as the Town of Clarence Arboretum. Just as those early American citizens showed foresight in establishing their Green, so too are today's Clarence citizens showing foresight in setting out their 18-acre park. In each case the founders look to the future.


The Clarence Arboretum is north of the escarpment and adjacent to Goodrich Road on a triangular tract of land that includes the Clarence Town Hall and Library.


Four members of the committee that has already worked for six years on park planning and development walked with me along some of the 4000 feet of trails through the park. We circled the two adjoining ponds, each with a fountain sending up attractive white cascades of water; walked past the new gazebo and crossed the equally new bridge. A few mallards paddled in the water and two omnipresent Canada geese waddled ahead of us along the pond edge. A killdeer called from a side trail where it almost certainly had a well camouflaged nest.


Everywhere around us were trees and bushes, all but a few recently planted. The site, I was told, is still only about half filled, but already 130 trees have been set out. When the arboretum is complete, there will be twice that number of trees and shrubs representing almost sixty species and the Clarence Garden Club will have further enhanced the ponds with perennial borders.


Clearly serious thought has been devoted to the tree selection and planting. Most species are indigenous to this region -- maples, oaks, spruces, birches, hickories, sycamore, sweetgum, hawthorne, horsechestnut, ironwood and tulip tree -- but there are also a few species uncommon here like the bald cypress from the south and the dawn redwood, discovered in Central China in 1941 and today on the United States critically endangered list. Each tree is identified and an educational brochure is planned that will provide more information about the species.


An introductory pamphlet developed by volunteer Elaine Wolfe tells readers that the arboretum is "designed for strolling, education and observation," and continues, "This exceptional project offers individuals, organizations and businesses the opportunity to participate and to be recognized in providing an enduring gift to future generations."


Indeed, this is an expensive project. Its overall cost is estimated at $750,000 and, although the Town board has contributed some funds and its highway and engineering staffs care for park upkeep, a major portion of that amount is being met by donations and grants. As in other area parks, those signs identifying tree species also indicate the names of the donors. So too do plaques on the benches.


A major future project is a fieldstone wall that will line the entire Goodrich Road side of the arboretum. This wall and the gardens associated with it will also enhance the entrance to the town hall and library.


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Arboretum volunteers Betty and Steve Murtaugh,

Todd Norris and Roy McCready


Even more impressive to me than the many people who have donated park amenities are the volunteers who have clearly devoted much time and energy to the creation and maintenance of the arboretum. Without their contributions, no amount of money would have brought this park into existence. Steve Murtaugh serves as project manager, Roy McCready is in charge of landscaping and Dick Steger heads up fund raising. Key committee members are arborists Todd Norris, Jim Burkhard and Bob Fogelsonger and accountant Tom Yaiku. As we walked through the park, McCready and Noriss pointed out many of the special features of the planting that will, I predict, appear in the planned descriptive brochure.


Even only partly complete, this is a lovely park, but as the years pass and the trees mature it will take on added distinction and value. Those will be achieved decades in the future; today it serves as a wonderful legacy for generations to come.-- Gerry Rising