Surrounded by Old Friends

Tree Campus Designation Highlights Thoughtful Beauty

A Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar (cedrus atlantica) creates a natural tunnel next to Bellamy Hall.

For many decades, the Western Oregon University campus has been known for its beauty, most notably tree-lined Monmouth Avenue, the signature giant sequoia and the grand, mature specimens in The Grove. That beauty doesn’t come without a lot of work, mainly from the persistent and thoughtful members of the WOU grounds crew.

Since 2015, WOU has been nationally recognized for its efforts to support and appreciate healthy trees on campus. The Arbor Day Foundation has named Western a Tree Campus USA for two years in a row—no small feat considering the amount of work required to earn the designation.

Biology Professor Bryan Dutton is the chairman of the Tree Campus USA committee, which comprises representatives from many parts of the campus community. Dutton describes his role as “facilitator,” but he’s really in charge of ensuring WOU is meeting the requirements included in the designation. He also prepares the annual application paperwork to retain the Tree Campus USA title.

“The campus is well-known for its beauty and its utilization of trees as a resource for adding to that,” Dutton said. “There’s been thoughtful management over the decades of arboriculture on our campus. It’s not something that happens overnight, obviously.”

Making it Happen

The Arbor Day Foundation has five requirements for the special designation:

There must be a campus tree advisory committee that includes students, faculty, facility management workers and community members. WOU’s committee involves two students, four faculty, two grounds crew workers and a member of the Monmouth Tree Advisory Board.

There must be a campus tree care plan in place that addresses tree care policies, protection and preservation procedures and tree damage assessment standards, among many other issues. WOU’s tree care plan was put in place in 2015 and continues to be fine-tuned as the tree population changes.

There must be a campus tree program with a dedicated annual budget for tree stewardship. WOU details its use of these funds in its annual application to the Arbor Day Foundation. The 2017 budget was $74,000. Volunteer time from students and community groups added up to 154 hours.

Mark Fancey, former Community Development Director for Monmouth, helps plant a tree as part of the 2016 Tree Campus USA recognition, with WOU employees Bryan Dutton, Paul Finke and Ava Howard.

Each campus must stage an Arbor Day event. The 2018 event will be April 27 and will include a tour of notable campus trees, presentations by students and possibly a tree planting.

Each campus must facilitate a service learning project for students. WOU has been working for several years on a comprehensive inventory of campus trees with the plan to create an online map of trees and their scientific information.

Dutton routinely challenges students in his biology class to work on this project; not only do they get experience doing field work on tree taxonomy, they often develop a new sense of appreciation for campus flora.

“Sometimes students say to me, after we take measurements and do our observances, ‘Wow, I just didn’t realize and recognize what’s around me. There’s a lot here, and it’s really worth knowing about,’ ” Dutton said.

A Prairie Fire Crab Apple graces the front elevation of Hamersly Library.

Boots on the Ground(s Crew)

Kevin Hughes, the campus grounds supervisor, deserves most of the credit for overseeing the upkeep of the campus trees, according to Dutton.

“His involvement and participation on this committee is fantastic because the committee has some weigh in on the types of trees, if we choose to,” Dutton said. “We continue to plant trees each year according to the priorities of the grounds crew and Kevin Hughes.”

Hughes, who started on campus in 1989, knows a staggering amount of information about trees, nearly all of which he learned on the job at WOU. He said he appreciates working at a university that, for decades, has put such a strong focus on the way in which the grounds make an impact on visitors.

“Whether you drive by, drive through or drive around campus, we want people to really enjoy it,” Hughes said. “We still maintain that value of drive-by impressions for the parents, grandparents, students, prospective students, even the kids who come in for field trips and things like that.”

Every decision around campus trees gets a lot of thought, Hughes explained. If a tree has to be taken out, it is not done lightly. Tall branches are regularly checked for loose sections, parts that to be need trimmed and sections that might be diseased. A great deal of research goes into every tree that is added to campus, including the conditions it needs to grow best, how big it will get and—Hughes’ favorite part—what kind of color it will lend to campus.

“We plant a lot of species that are native to the Pacific Northwest,” Hughes said. “But we really like variety. I look for spring color and fall color. Hopefully we will be planting some cherry trees this year. Those just brighten up the place really quickly.”

Early morning shadows near the baseball field.

Looking forward

Right now, a robust committee is mulling the Campus Master Plan, which addresses all the new construction, remodeling, landscaping and general campus-use plans for the future. You can bet that the existing trees on campus play a large role in those decisions.

In the meantime, WOU has submitted its application for its 2017 Tree Campus USA designation renewal and will continue honoring the trees—big and small—that beautify its 157 acres. “(The Tree Campus USA title) brings the kind of recognition that Western deserves for its really strong history in promoting trees in a very thoughtful and important way,” Dutton said. “Giving students an opportunity, who come from areas where there hasn’t been that forethought, to see just how integral trees can be in an urban setting, I think is really important.”

Hughes agrees: “It’s kind of like (campus trees) are old friends.”