On a Thursday afternoon, Beaver Lake Nature Center volunteers Parker Kiff and Antonio Peck arrived at the foot of a large archway in an area between the entrance roadway and the Three Meadows Trail. Inside their vehicle was the large wooden sign intended to hang there, which read “Arboretum Trail, 0.3 mi.”
Once Kiff and Peck carefully hung the heavy sign in its rightful place, Beaver Lake Nature Center director Heidi Kortright took a moment, stood and marveled at the finalized entranceway to the revitalized Arboretum Trail. “It looks beautiful, it really does,” Kortright said through a wide smile.
The sign now hangs like a crown over the new entrance of a trail that had been largely forgotten by most park attendees. “A lot of people didn’t even realize that we had an arboretum,” Kortright added.
Those that weren’t in the know before will certainly be aware of the center’s arboretum when wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers and other park visitors celebrate the rejuvenated trail at its grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 13. To mark the occasion, various activities will take place for attendees of all ages, including guided tours of the trail, a presentation of the recent improvements, scavenger hunts, a “critter craft table” featuring arts and crafts for children and the availability of assorted tree-derived foods.
Still, the fanfare won’t supplant some well-established seasonal activities that Kortright and park regulars have always counted on. “We’re starting off the day with pumpkin pancakes, which is just tradition for that weekend anyway,” noted Kortright.
An arboretum is, by definition, a collection of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes. Think of it as a living museum that is integrated seamlessly into its natural surroundings, which accurately describes the trail at Beaver Lake, operated by Onondaga County Parks. “Students take advantage of it because it’s like an outdoor classroom,” said Kortright.
Unfortunately, the Arboretum Trail has languished in obscurity in recent years, being consistently overshadowed by more popular trails in the park like the Lake Loop and Deep Woods. It soon found itself being taken over by invasive plant species like multiflora rose, which threatened to disturb the trees, bushes and other surrounding vegetation in the area. “We knew that it needed some attention,” admitted Kortright.
Another person that recognized the ailing trail’s need for some rehabilitation was lifetime member and dedicated trail guide John Cecil. His personal connection to the Arboretum Trail provided the impetus for him to take action and make a generous donation in its favor. “His wife had passed away a few years back and she had also been a trail guide,” said Kortright. “This was one of their favorite trails, so he made this donation so we would be able to do a lot of this work.”
Working on the trail in winter 2010, Kortright and other volunteers used their time that season to do meticulous research on native plants and trees in order to find and purchase the newest additions to the trail. The process proved arduous. “Native species are a bit difficult to find,” remarked Kortright. “We found many through volunteers, the Internet and we went to two or three nurseries to get what we wanted.”
The summer of 2011 was especially painstaking. Pruning, the removal of tree stumps, cleaning up the trail and the slow, gradual elimination of invasives became the top priority for Cecil and a handful of volunteers. “We had daily volunteers for the initial clearing of honeysuckle and multiflora rose, and then we got to work weekly with the upkeep, and back again daily once all the planting came so they can be watered,” said Kortright. She estimates that they had at least one or two staff and upward of a dozen volunteers working on the trail two or three times a week, depending on the task at hand.
The planting of the new trees such as the common chokecherry and the replacing of the small identification signs in front of relevant trees and plants of interest took up much of this summer’s work activity. “We were able to buy sizable trees with Cecil’s donation, which normally wouldn’t be the case,” said Kortright of their good fortune. She estimates that within their new revitalization effort, they have planted about 20 new trees and shrubs.
Some of the newest additions to the Arboretum Trail are 10 varieties of perennials. “The arboretum had only consisted of tree species in the past, and we thought it would be nice to do some perennials,” said Kortright. “Now there’s swamp milkweed, butterfly weed and New York asters.”
Kortright doesn’t think the upcoming winter will reduce use of the Arboretum Trail, located on the southern side of the park. Instead, it may become a fun destination for those who come to the Beaver Lake Nature Center for snowshoeing. Volunteers made sure to take the winter pastime into account when figuring out what flora to plant.
“Our Southern Snowshoe Trail actually loops through and then cuts across the arboretum,” Kortright noted. “That’s part of the reason why we wanted to plant the winterberry because they have such a beautiful red color in the winter.”
There is still plenty of work to do.
Kortright estimates that the project will probably take five more years to complete. Still, she affirmed, there is no rush. “We want to increase the perennials that are here, and there are some trees that we didn’t replace this year that we’ll do next year. There will be more of the thinning of the invasive and putting in more native shrubs in their place. Because we don’t want to lose this as such a great habitat, we’ll do it gradually.”
For now, however, with the trail reinvigorated and in beautiful shape, it’s time to celebrate 16 months of hard work. Kortright is looking forward to the Arboretum Trail’s public reception. “People seem very interested in it, and I think it’ll be a fun day.”
The celebration takes place Saturday, Oct. 13, at noon at Beaver Lake
Nature Center, 8477 E. Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville. The event is free,
with a $3 parking fee. For more information, call 638-2519.