The Arboretum’s interim director reflects on the past year

We recently caught up with Dr. Sanford “Sandy” Smith, a teaching professor of Forest Resources and extension specialist with Penn State Extension. His academic home is the Department of Ecosystem and Management. He has been the interim director of the Arboretum at Penn State since July 1, 2021.

What has the experience been like as interim director of the Arboretum?

In two words, it has been rewarding and educational. One of the most interesting aspects of this position was overseeing the transition of the Arboretum into Penn State Outreach and nurturing the first year of this new relationship.

What project did you enjoy participating in the most as interim director?

That’s a funny question in some ways. I did not see my work segmented into projects, but there are certainly a few things I enjoyed most. These included caring for the Arboretum’s staff and advancing their work and careers when possible (read our recent story featuring Shari Edelson), spending time with donors and volunteers and letting them know how much we appreciate them and their contributions, and also making new friends in the Arboretum — helping them to see the incredible place it is while sharing visions for its future.

Did you enjoy “We Are Weekend” and interacting with alumni?

We love alumni visits! I went to bed the night before this event wondering what I should say to welcome these visitors. Thankfully, I awoke around 3:00 a.m. with an idea and the words for an interactive oath. I have used it with other groups since. It provides a simple way to connect with new visitors and send them off on garden tours with a few key things to look for and experience. It goes like this:

The Arboretum at Penn State Visitor Oath

I _________, do hereby promise:
To enjoy my time in The Arboretum at Penn State. And,
Leave all my cares and worries at home.
Enter the Arboretum with a smile on my face,
Appreciate the horticultural beauty along every walkway,
Smell a flower in the Fragrance Garden,
Soak up a little mist in the Fountain Garden,
Dip my finger in the Lotus Pool,
Check out the Bee Hotels in the Pollinator and Bird Garden,
Be a ‘kid-again’ in the Children’s Garden,
And tell all my friends and family about this special place.
Finally, if I am able
I will return often,
Always remembering the Arboretum
For a Greater Penn State,
A brighter tomorrow,
and a better world.

What makes the Arboretum such a special place?

I often say, it is an inspirational place of great natural beauty that welcomes everyone equally, all day, every day, and connects plants, insects, birds, other critters, and people in a safe and comfortable environment. It’s a magnet for visitors to Happy Valley and one of the gems of Penn State.

What’s a fun fact about the Arboretum that most visitors are unaware of?

There are a few of these, but here’s a BIG one: Most people think The Arboretum at Penn State is only the 10-acre H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens that they know and love. The Arboretum, however, is so much more. There are an additional 340 acres of fields and forests, a wildflower trail, a restored prairie, and a rail trail too. I like to call this area, the “Outback” of the Arboretum; it is open to the public for discovery. Our new visitor guide has a great map of the entire Arboretum, including the Outback; it can be found in the brochure rack at the Overlook Pavilion.

What’s your favorite area of the Arboretum and why?

Dr. Sanford "Sandy" Smith
Dr. Sanford “Sandy” Smith

If I’m talking about the Botanic Gardens, I would have to say it’s the new Pollinator and Bird Garden. This garden is unprecedented in its educational opportunities. It is a living demonstration of the ecological connections between insects, plants, birds, and people. I have not seen anything quite like it in a public garden before. It’s also a great collection of native flowering plants.

If I’m considering the Outback of the Arboretum, I would have to say the Hartley Wood old growth forest with its rich history and Old Conifer Plantation out near the I-99/Mount Nittany Expressway. This plantation was established by my predecessors on the forestry faculty at Penn State about 100 years ago. Do you think they could have imagined the day that their successors would be establishing an arboretum there, or people would be flying by their plantation on an interstate highway?

Any parting thoughts you wish to share?

Please remember that the Arboretum is entirely supported by the generosity of many volunteers and philanthropists. You can be a supporter, too. No financial gift is too small, and no amount of time is ever wasted helping the Arboretum. Our entire collection of plants is solar powered, and the oxygen they produce is freely distributed to every visitor.

Learn more about The Arboretum at Penn State