The crunch of new snow under boots was the only sound coming from the Clark University students as they hiked into the swatch of city forest to finish. They brought a drill and screws, found an appropriate spot, then went to work. The wooden sign they erected, etched with the words “Magnolia Trail,” represented the culmination of a project that brought fresh life to the Hadwen Arboretum, an overlooked jewel in Worcester’s Columbus Park neighborhood.
Clark owns the arboretum, located a short ride from campus. A year ago, the property at the corner of Lovell and May streets would have attracted little attention from passing drivers. Thick underbrush made it difficult to see into its depths or appreciate its beauty.
Then last fall, John Rogan, professor in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University, received a call from District Councilor Matt Wally. Some of Wally’s constituents who owned homes adjacent to the arboretum were concerned with the property’s untended appearance. A meeting was arranged between Rogan, Wally, Deborah Martin, director of the Graduate School of Geography, and Jack Foley, Clark’s vice president of government and community affairs, to assess the situation. A revitalization project emerged that drew on the expertise, resources, and muscle of Rogan and the students in his urban forestry course.
The arboretum had recently appeared on Rogan’s radar thanks to Anthony Himmelberger ’19, then a member of the Clark student organization Arboretum Advocates. Himmelberger informed Rogan about the arboretum’s plight.
“I was passionate about this space and hoped that someday it would get the attention it deserves,” he says.
The Hadwen Arboretum originated as a bequest of 18 tree-filled acres from Worcester farmer and noted horticulturalist Obadiah Hadwen to the University upon his death in 1907. Adjacent property that increased the acreage to about 27 acres was donated in 1931 by his daughter, Amie Hadwen Coes. Obadiah planted more than 1,000 trees of over 100 varieties on his property, including specimens like Scottish poplar, Kentucky coffee tree, Japanese Ginko, and Chinese cork tree — indigenous to many countries and climates.
With the blessing of Clark’s senior leadership, Rogan decided the arboretum would make an excellent hands-on case study for his urban forestry course this semester, which is composed of undergraduate and graduate students. The students made frequent trips to the arboretum for training in tree inventory methods and GIS mapping. Rogan cited the contributions of the Worcester Tree Initiative, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who donated their time and equipment to remove downed branches and trees and aid the students’ research and clean-up efforts.
Over the course of the semester, the students inventoried and created a digital database of the arboretum’s trees, identified invasive plant species for removal, and crafted a plan for maintaining the property. With the help of Clark’s Facilities Management office, the students also completed three hiking trails, including the Magnolia Trail. “Without [Facilities Management], none of this could have been done,” Rogan said. Tentative arrangements have been made for a visit in the new year by Michael Dosmann, director of collections at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, so he can review progress and suggest ways to move forward.
Rogan and his students presented the results of their arboretum work at a Dec. 5 public meeting hosted by the Worcester Tree Initiative at Clark’s University Center. “The Initiative held a sort of ‘state of the city’s trees’ event,” Rogan says. “We led that as a team, spoke about the arboretum, and some Worcester Tree Initiative work we’ve also done. I thought featuring the arboretum would be a nice way to bring it to people’s attention.”
Among the meeting attendees were residents from the Columbus Park neighborhood.
“The response was very positive,” Rogan says. “The residents were appreciative of the hard work, and they invited the team to present at their neighborhood community group meeting in the new year. The Worcester Tree Initiative also invited the students to present in January 2020 at their board meeting at Tower Hill Botanical Garden. I think that us just being at the arboretum gives the residents the knowledge that we are actively maintaining the site, or even reestablishing it as something better.
“And the students couldn’t be happier. This was planned and put into action. I think that was what they liked.”
One of those students is Himmelberger, now completing a master’s degree in GIS through Clark’s accelerated degree program.
“It’s great to be a member of the group of students that have jump-started the revitalizing of the arboretum and are turning it into an appreciated space within Clark and the greater Worcester community,” he says. “There’s still lots of work to do, but this course has gotten the ball rolling.”
Cynthia Sellers ’19, environmental science major, is also enthusiastic.
“It’s exciting to be a part of a project that makes a difference in your local area,” Sellers says. “It also doesn’t hurt that you get to start your day with a walk in the arboretum to hang out with some trees.”