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Snapshot: Penn State Arboretum Director Kim Steiner

by on June 15, 2016 6:00 AM

Since initial construction of the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens was completed in 2008, the Arboretum at Penn State has been an ever-changing work in progress, with director Kim Steiner there every step of the way. Before becoming involved with the arboretum, however, he came to Penn State to teach in what was the School of Forest Resources.

“I’ve been here on faculty since 1974, starting as an assistant professor. I came up very rapidly through the faculty ranks and served as interim director of the School of Forest Resources for a time in the early 1990s. That led, more or less, to my becoming chair of a faculty committee that was promoting the whole idea [of an arboretum] at the university, and I’ve been involved with that project ever since,” he says.

While the plan for an arboretum at Penn State didn’t pick up traction until the mid-1990s, the idea to create one has been around for more than a century.

“There have actually been plans for an arboretum at Penn State for over 100 years. In fact, there was a committee promoting the idea that was put together back in the early 1970s, and I was appointed as a member by the provost in 1975. The committee was never entirely forgotten; it was simply resurrected with new membership in 1994 to develop a fresh case for an arboretum,” Steiner says.

"After the committee produced its white paper in 1995, the administration agreed to fund a proper study, which was completed in 1999 and presented to the president and the president’s council. President [Graham] Spanier agreed that we could go ahead with an arboretum on that space if we could raise a single eight-figure gift. We got that gift from Skip Smith in 2007, and it was that money that we used to build phase one.”

The Arboretum at Penn State has undergone many changes since it was built, including the addition of a popular children’s garden in 2014, and more changes are to come.

“The next thing we’re trying to raise money for is a pollinator’s garden, which would be a two-acre garden dedicated to pollinator diversity,” Steiner says. “It would be a very attractive place, but the idea would be to educate people about pollinators and the importance of pollination. We also have plans for a bird garden dedicated to the bird habitat and a garden that I’m calling the ‘fountain garden,’ which would extend out between the fountain and the boardwalk.”

Another change to the arboretum happens June 4 with the opening of the arboretum’s first seasonal art exhibit, featuring pieces by Robert Anderson.  

“This is the first in what we hope will be an annual series of outdoor art exhibits in the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens,” Steiner says. “We are already collaborating with the Palmer [Museum] on an exhibition for 2017. Public gardens can be a great venue for art, and exhibits like this serve our goal of encouraging visitation.

“We have worked hard to make the arboretum an important resource for both campus and community. I think we have been pretty successful. rates the arboretum as number 2 of 23 things to do in State College, behind only the university, and the reviews are flattering. But we are not resting. We want to get bigger and better.”

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