One Tank Trip: Cedar Crest College


Take a moment and look up, sit under or stroll around. The beauty is there for the taking.

There is a miniature forest on the grounds of the Cedar Crest College campus near Allentown: the William F Curtis Arboretum.

It's a museum of 125 trees and quite a different landscape from when the college first relocated here in 1915.

"There was nothing here. It was all corn fields and one walnut tree," said Kelly Austin, the arboretum's curator.

The college president at the time, Dr. Curtis, had a vision for the school's 84 acres. He was also a minister and in lieu of accepting payments for his speaking engagements, he would ask people to donate trees.

"There are stories of him driving around in the car and his wife is with him and she has a tree in her lap and she's kind of annoyed that you know she's carrying these trees around. But he started planting and he was very dedicated to the campus and also to the students," Austin said.

The original lone walnut tree is long gone, done in by a storm, but there are others to look up to. It wasn't until 1985 that it would be formally designated as an arboretum.

Biology Professor Dr. Robert Halma made a tree list.

"I love it. I've worked outdoors all my life. I think one of the biggest pleasures of working here over the last 16 years is that I've been able to watch trees that we've planted grow and get older and I know they are going to be here long after I'm gone," said Austin.

You plant something and it takes root. Like the seeds of knowledge planted inside the college's classrooms.

Tours of the arboretum are free. You'll start here on the steps in front of Blaney Hall and walk over to the gingko. One of the toughest trees in the world. In Japan, six survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima.

"Each tree has its own story. it has a story here on the campus but also a larger story about how it fits into the ecology of the area and if it's being impacted by pests or diseases or what role it plays in the larger contexts of North America," recalls Austin.

The Eastern Hemlock, the state tree of Pennsylvania, is being destroyed by the invasive wolley adelgid.

There are Atlas Cedar Trees from Morocco, a Katsura tree from Japan whose leaves in the fall smell like apple pie and the redbud with flowers on the trunk in the spring.