A group of Troy University professors and students and community volunteers have recently undertaken a massive project—restoring the 75-acre arboretum back to its glory days.
Located on TROY’s campus, the arboretum encompasses seven and a half miles of nature trails, including two self-guided walks with labeled stops, over 500 identified plant species, a pond, an outdoor classroom and an indoor classroom.
Biology professor Dr. Alvin Diamond joined the University in 1987 as the first Arboretum Director. In the mid-90s’, management of the arboretum shifted from the Center for Environmental Research Services/biology department to the physical plant. After the move, care of the nature preserve dwindled over time.
“For whatever reason, it was neglected over the years,” Diamond said. “All of the trails were overgrown, trees have fallen, trash was dumped, the deck of the building rotted, our trail signs were taken or destroyed due to vandalism. Everything pretty much just went downhill.”
This year, the arboretum was transferred back under the wing of the College of Arts and Sciences and the biology department. Diamond, along with Jonathan Miller, lecturer and aquatic biologist, Dr. Siegfried Harden, associate professor and Chair of the biology department, longtime volunteer Clark Harris, students and other community members have made it their mission to make the most of its resources for the University and the public.
“For the past couple of years, we’ve been trying to get control of this place and have slowly been whittling our way back in and have started teaching classes out here again,” Harden said. “We see this as a potential field station. We’ve already started teaching many of our lab classes and a lot of our field classes, and we want to move more and more of our operations out here. All of them can be taught out here. This is going to be a great facility once we get it back to working order.”
Work on the trails has long been started with the Magnolia Loop fully accessible and about 3 miles of additional trails open. Also currently in the works is renovating the outdoor classroom from rotted wood to metal and stainless steel work tables, thanks to a grant from the Choctawhatchee, Pea and Yellow Rivers Watershed Management Authority, replacing the bridge at the pond and installing a floating metal dock to enable students to take samples away from the bank, purchasing initial signage to label 200 species of plants along the trails and fixing the erosion problem around the stream. The goal for this fall is to have a wall put up to separate the building space into a lab and a lecture hall.
To keep up with modern technology trends, QR codes will be placed along the trails for easy identification with the help of iNaturalist, a website that helps keep records of identified species for a given area.
“No one really wants to walk around with a bunch of brochures, so the QR codes will take you to a website where you can read about all the different species that have been identified, and where you can identify what you find for others to learn about,” Miller said. “Eventually there will be various ecosystems or designated habitats, among other things that will be labeled on those trails.”
Aside from the upkeeping needs, their goal is to once again have the arboretum as a resource for education.
At its height, the grounds welcomed multiple groups each year, including the Boy Scouts, Future Farmers of America, the Homemakers Club and an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 student visitors. With a field station right here on campus and 75-acres of diversity to explore and study, the arboretum has much to offer researchers locally and beyond.
“I don’t know of any universities that have a resource this big that’s also this close,” Miller said. “We already have multiple labs that have this as the primary meeting location and several more that visit a few times a semester. This space could be developed into an almost limitless amount of study opportunities.”
To help with the projects, the group has applied for a Wiregrass Resource, Conservation and Development Council grant and a Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s grant, but more funding is needed. A TROY Foundation account has been created to accept donations.