Additional Images


Eastern Inner Loop





A photographer has paused to study a petunia closely—and given us a chance to admire its green foliage, stems, and sepals.

The Arboretum will welcome community involvement by offering memberships and volunteer opportunities.




The Mitchell Tract Tomorrow:
The Conceptual Plans

The Arboretum as a Regional and Local Amenity

Source: M•T•R
Click on the image above to open a new window with a much larger image of the the Mitchell Tract as a Local Amenity.
The Arboretum at Penn State has the potential to be not just a campus facility, but also a regional facility serving both the University and an area that goes well beyond State College and Centre County. The financial analysis has identified almost five million residents that live within 100 miles of the Arboretum and could be a pool of visitors. The study also advised that the Arboretum should reasonably attract 190,000 visitors a year when it is up and running with a real complement of attractions and events to draw people in. Fully 160,000 of those visitors would be coming from outside the Penn State community.

The Arboretum is particularly well situated to be both a gateway to the University and a window on the University and the diversity of its programs. It will aesthetically complement the open lawn of the East Sub-Campus directly across Park Avenue and Penn State Dickinson School of Law's new Lewis Katz Building directly to the east. It is located on Park Avenue along the main entrance corridor to the University from I-99 where its gardens and glass-walled Conservatory will contrast well with the athletic fields and the stadium.

Recommendations for Creating a Campus Amenity Contributing to the Quality of Life in the Community and the Region

Source: M•T•R
This conceptual plan (developed in 2006) replaced the earlier versions created by Sasaki Associates, Inc., and by M•T•R. (Click on the image above to see a larger version.)


This Conceptual Plan for the Mitchell Tract differs from the original master planning that had been done by Sasaki Associates, Inc, for this site in two major respects. The building complex has been pulled forward closer to Park Avenue; and Bigler Road has been re-designed to create a major arrival at the front door of the Arboretum and a shared entrance corridor to both the Arboretum's and law school's parking lots. Because Housing and Food Services can be serviced from University Drive, service trucks can be eliminated from this area, thereby reducing conflicts between users. Relocating the buildings accomplishes two things. The Aboretum buildings are closer to the campus, and because they lay along a major arrival route, are more accessible and visible to the rest of the campus. Placing the buildings closer to Park Avenue also shields more of the Mitchell Tract from the noise and and distractions of traffic.

Source: Joel McNeal
This plant, Sisyrinchium montanum Greene (blue-eyed grass), is a native that grows on stream banks, and in woods and fields. 

The area in front of the building complex is critical to the welcoming look of the Arboretum both for visitors to the University and for potential visitors to the Arboretum. This area must be as attractive as possible, and therefore has some of the most potentially popular features. What a visitor to the University will see from Park Avenue is the Conservatory and a water fountain in front of a bamboo allée leading into the gardens - all beautiful elements that will help to draw visitors into the site. Since many visitors will be arriving on foot or by bicycle, there are paths through this area connecting to all the major intersections on Park Avenue and leading back directly to the Conservatory Terrace and to the entrance to the Arboretum. On the Park Avenue side of the Conservatory is the Four Seasons Ggarden, a garden space designed to have the earliest bloom in the spring and the latest bloom and fall color so that there is always something to see. Next to the entry road is the Winter Garden, which will feature plants that are attractive in even the coldest months. Along the entire front section is a major gift to the campus community - a large open space where tall switchgrass fills a natural recharge area to form the Marsh Meadow. With naturalistic banks created with grading and plantings, the meadow will resemble a pond as its grasses sway in the breeze.



Looking southeast along the tree-lined axis of the East Sub-Campus

The Conceptual Plan responds to the Arboretum's location across Park Avenue from the East Sub-Campus development in two ways. It respects the strong axial layout developed from the Berkey Creamery terrace, between the buildings and out onto the lawn, by creating a boardwalk and small pavilion in the center of the marsh meadow that extends the axis across Park Avenue to the water feature on the Conservatory Terrace. Like the East Sub-Campus with its large semi-circle of lawn at its center, the Arboretum uses the sweeping views across the marsh meadow to draw the gaze of passers-by into the gardens and the building complex.

The Marsh Meadow will invite pedestrians to stroll its pathways. The boardwalk and pavilion in the middle will connect to the lawn panels that lead to the Conservatory Terrace where a prominent water feature will be visible from Park Avenue..

This plan also creates spaces for activities as well as places to get away from the urban campus. It is well known that green spaces have the ability to calm and refresh the spirit. Many Penn State graduates remember the valley and its landscapes before they remember particular places on campus. The Arboretum wants to be a remembered place, a place of beauty, a place to go and unwind and to reconnect with nature and growing things, as well as a place to meet and socialize and to participate in activities and events. The Mitchell Tract is a bridge to the larger Arboretum that is vast and less intensively developed. This plan creates the physical connections into the larger landscape by developing the bike trail running along the east edge of the Mitchell Tract and by connecting the trail system into Sunset Park. This path also provides access to the larger site for the neighbors.

The Mitchell Tract provides much needed activity space, not only for Arboretum-related activities, but also for use by the whole University family and the local community. There are outdoor spaces suitable for social events under tents and terraces for gatherings of all types from educational to social. The terraces are placed next to indoor spaces that can be set up for events, seminars, and parties. In the prime location on the crest of the hill is the Overlook Pavilion with views across the perennial flower gardens and into Big Hollow and back to the Education Center. It is designed to function not only as a special garden spot but also for after-hours events with its location near parking, adjacent catering set-up spaces, and restrooms. The Education Center has a multi-purpose room for large classes, seminars, meetings, and social events. Several universities have found that their gardens and arboreta are excellent places to introduce newcomers to the university, entertain alumnae, and to hold important university events. The opportunities exist in this plan for those kinds of things to happen. The botanic gardens can also function as an adjunct to the social activities that take place at the Schreyer House.

Source: College of Agricultural Sciences
Several universities have found that their gardens and arboreta are excellent places to introduce newcomers to the university, to entertain alumni, and to hold important university events. 

This Conceptual Plan responds to the needs of the State College region by designing the Mitchell Tract and its programs not only for the University, but also for the larger community. The site welcomes visitors by providing not only gardens to see, but also amenities such as parking, a gift shop, restrooms, and limited food service. Specific teaching exhibits are included that can be used by the community and for community outreach such as the Children's Garden and the Demonstration Gardens. Event spaces are open to all. This institution will welcome community involvement by offering memberships and volunteer opportunities.

This Conceptual Plan responds to requirements for environmental sensitivity and to the constraints of the Mitchell Tract's location on the University well field's watershed. While grading on the site has been kept to a minimum and storm water is held on the site and not piped away, the most important thing that the Arboretum can do is to maintain the quality of water infiltrating back into the ground and then into the well field. This must be done using best horticultural practices and minimizing the use of chemicals. This will be a focus of the Arboretum's research and will certainly be a focus of its educational outreach.

The lower area of the swale has been kept free of structures and paving and the design has been accomplished with bold planting. This area can flood if the need arises. It is the intent of the master plan to capture the roof and parking lot runoff and hold it for irrigation and to recharge the water features. In this way almost all of the runoff on the site will find its way back into the recharge system for the wells.

The Mitchell Tract Circulation

The main entrance to the Arboretum is along a gently angled driveway that sweeps visitors off of Bigler Road up to the front door of the Arboretum. The Arboretum's parking lot and vegetative screening shields visitors from views of the Housing and Food Services Building. Truck traffic from the core of the campus to Services Road is Rerouted via University Drive. Pedestrian paths move back into the site from the Bigler and Shortlidge Road intersections and Park Avenue.

Everyone is directed to the Education Center. It is critically important to bring everyone through the Education Center in order to orient visitors, to provide them with the materials they will need to understand and enjoy the Arboretum, and to entice them to return to attend an event, a class, or an exhibit that is coming in the future. In this way the Arboretum can build programmatic and financial support.

In order for this portal to work, the main exhibits in the Mitchell Tract must be fenced. While the Mitchell Tract needs to be fenced and admission to this portion of the Arboretum may require a fee, the majority of the Arboretum is freely accessible to all. Access to it is maintained from Park Avenue and the College Heights neighborhood as well as from Big Hollow and Overlook Heights. As part of a comprehensive bike trail plan, bicycle access runs along the east property line on the main Arboretum service drive and out to the larger Arboretum and its trail system. This trail system also connects into the neighborhood at Sunset Park. Visitors to the Mitchell Tract have their own entrance into the rest of the Arboretum and its trails through a gate at the end of the Meadow Garden at the far end of the tract.

There are other compelling reasons to fence the Mitchell Tract and control access to it. Another reason is that the Arboretum will be a steward of valuable collections and exhibits that require protection. This facility needs to be thought of as a museum outdoors, and it is common sense to lock the doors at the end of the day and to control access. It is important to donors that these fragile spaces are protected and maintained at the highest level. In this way future donations and support are assured. Finally, the collections must be protected from deer and other wildlife. The fence will be largely integrated into tree masses and is not an intrusive element. Where it is visible from the gardens, it will have to be designed as a garden feature.

The Mitchell Tract will be serviced from a maintenance center behind the Housing and Food Services Building. Service access to the gardens is from the primary pedestrian loop. Service access has also been provided through the Mitchell Tract to the back of the Conservatory and to the Schreyer House.

Recommendations for Creating a Vibrant Educational Center

All of the outdoor exhibits are educational on all sorts of different levels. The casual walker may just enjoy the color. But each exhibit is part of the Arboretum's collection of plants, and each plant is displayed in conditions conducive to its health and well-being. In each garden there will be plant labels and perhaps interpretive signs or materials, all of which provide low-key educational opportunities. Each garden also can be used for interpreted tours, classes, symposia, and so on. It is absolutely critical as the master plan is implemented and each part of the Arboretum is designed in more detail, that educators be a part of the design process so that good solid interpretive underpinnings exist.

Source: College of Agricultural Sciences
Peter Feretti, professor of horticulture, conducts a tour of a vegetable trial garden at Penn State. Best practices for growing vegetables will be displayed in the Arboretum's demonstration gardens - all of which will be used for tours, classes, and volunteer activities. 

But the key to the educational programs at the Arboretum is the educational core created by this plan. It consists of the teaching spaces in the Education Center, the classroom and the multi-purpose room, the Event Lawn and the flanking teaching gardens, the Children's Garden, and the Demonstration Gardens. The uses for the teaching spaces can be as varied as a class for the general public, a continuing education class for green industry professionals, or a seminar about the latest findings of some aspect of the University's research programs. The Event Lawn is available for large plant shows and festivals. The teaching gardens are planned to engage people directly in horticulture, in learning about environmental issues, and in exploring the relationship between plants and man.

The Demonstration Gardens are hands-on places to learn about all aspects of landscape design, horticulture, environmental issues, and the world of plants. They are set up with teaching areas at a learning center including a small outdoor amphitheater. They are the heart of the plant trials, the results of which need to be published and made available to the gardening community. They have the potential to be one of the windows on the University's research. Parts of the gardens are meant to change over time to engage different talents from within the University and to provide practical learning experiences.

Recommendations for Creating a Horticultural Museum and Showcase

The Arboretum consists of 370 acres, and the majority of the site is devoted to research and environmental exhibits. The Mitchell Tract, containing the fifty-eight acres facing Park Avenue, is the horticultural and botanical center for the Arboretum and the transition to the rest of the Arboretum. This Conceptual Plan differs from the original Arboretum Master Plan in trying to tie the Mitchell Tract more firmly to the rest of the Arboretum. This has been accomplished by extending the planting beyond the crest of the hill and across the open field to the tree line at Big Hollow.

There are two major types of exhibits: displays and environmental exhibits. The horticultural displays are what bring visitors to the site for the first visit. They have popular appeal and, typically, are colorful or exotic. They also reveal themselves in completely different ways across the seasons, rewarding those who return to explore. Some of the displays on the Mitchell Tract are concentrated along Park Avenue to advertise the Arboretum to the passing public and provide a particularly inviting front door. They include the Marsh Meadow, the Four Seasons Garden, the Conservatory, and the Rose and Fragrance Garden.

Source: College of Agricultural Sciences
Robert Berghage, professor of horticulture, leads a tour of the Penn State flower gardens. The flower trials will be incorporated in the Demonstration Gardens of the Arboretum.

The other displays, the Perennial Gardens, are located prominently around the Event Lawn and run out to the north from the Overlook Pavilion. The display gardens are arranged along a formal axis that runs the length of the Mitchell Tract. This axis features the grass family to help tie the Mitchell Tract to the larger Arboretum.

While the Arboretum has the turf research, restored prairie, fields, and meadows, the Mitchell Tract explores turf, ornamental grasses, meadow gardens, agricultural crops, and even exotic members of the grass family such as bamboo. To the south the axis runs through the pavilion on the boardwalk in the Marsh Meadow, along the lawn panel and through the Four Seasons Garden to the fountain in front of the bamboo allée between the Conservatory Terrace and Oasis Garden. Following the bamboo allée, it runs across the Event Lawn, through the Overlook Pavilion at the crest of the hill, and then down through a River of Ornamental Grasses and Dry Stream and finally into the fields of the Arboretum and the Prairie beyond. Visitors are encouraged to move out into the rest of the Arboretum to explore further.

Source: Joel McNeal
This plant, Thalictrum thalictroides (L.) A.J.Eames & B.Boivin (rue anemone, windflower), was found growing on the land that will become the Arboretum. It is common in wooded banks and thickets, and flowers from April to June.

The Mitchell Tract is the transition to the larger Arboretum with its re-created native plant communities. Therefore the Arboretum exhibits closest to the larger Arboretum have an environmental theme, exploring plants that grow in meadow and in shade and woodland settings. This creates a smooth transition to the native woodlands and meadows of the Arboretum, inviting visitors to explore further. These environmental exhibits are designed as gardens, not native environments. They explore the plants appropriate to Asian Woods, closer to the educational core, and, as the visitor passes through the Transition Woods into Penn's Woods, exhibits gradually concentrate exclusively on native plants along the edge of the Mitchell Tract next to the larger Arboretum. Together they contain all the best plants for shade and woodland settings in central Pennsylvania.

While the Mitchell Tract is arranged in what we have called displays and environmental exhibits, these exhibits contain a large portion of the Arboretum's plant collections. Though the plant collections may be shown in a way that they have public appeal and are not set out in neat rows or separated by genus, they need to be curated the same way that any museum collection would be. They are the basis for research and for the Arboretum's educational programs.

Recommendations for Generating Income

The Arboretum needs to be as self-supporting as possible through endowment income, annual giving, and earned income. Therefore the Master Plan maximizes the opportunities for generating income and developing membership support. Based on the recommendations that have been generated by the financial analysis, it is important that the Arboretum appeal to as many people as possible to generate support. The Arboretum must be a regional attraction, not just a University facility.

The Arboretum must have the capacity to charge admission, since admissions can contribute as much as 26% of total income over time. The Arboretum can set its policies to allow most students to visit the botanic gardens at very favorable rates or at no charge, but it is important to collect fees from other visitors and to persuade them to become members of the Arboretum. Members are created by motivating visitors to come back. Establishing a membership program is important to income since members will be the Arboretum's biggest supporters. They spend more, take advantage of the educational offerings, volunteer, and are more apt to give annually. Therefore it is critical to start a dialogue with visitors and to promote all that the Arboretum offers. The visitor services areas are key to making this happen.

The Education Center has several revenue-generating spaces including the gift shop, café, and educational spaces. All of the educational facilities in the Education Center must be attractively designed so that they can be rented for meetings and social events. These indoor spaces have adjacent outdoor terraces that can be rented in combination with the interior spaces. The Conservatory needs to be designed to accommodate small groups both inside and out.

Out in the gardens, the Event Lawn and the Overlook Pavilion are not only attractive garden features but also venues for large fund-raising events such as plant sales and festivals, or for small parties and events. The Overlook Pavilion can be combined for rental with the Event Lawn or the Children's Garden for more flexibility. The financial analysis emphasized that there is a very good potential market for weddings on the Arboretum site. Accordingly, the plan provides spaces within the gardens where small ceremonies could take place.


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