By Allie English, Contributing Writer —
For University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students and faculty looking for a way to enjoy the beauty of nature this spring, the campus’ designation as the Linda T. Collins Arboretum provides everyone at UTC easy access to outdoor relaxation and recreation.
UTC was certified a Level II Arboretum in 2011 by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. This level requires between 60 to 89 distinct tree species labeled with scientific and common names and a map of tree locations available for the public. According to UTC’s website, the campus currently maintains almost 2,000 trees and woody plants.
“An arboretum is a site where trees and other woody plants are deliberately cultivated for scientific, educational, and aesthetic purposes,” said Lisa Darger, sustainability coordinator at UTC.
The idea began in the late 1990s with Tom Ellis of the Facilities, Planning and Management Department. Linda Collins, namesake of the arboretum and former professor of the Biology, Geology, and Environmental Science Department, took initiative and was a driving force in its establishment.
Collins created the UTC Landscape Committee and served as Chair for 13 years. The committee was a key element of the arboretum’s creation. She worked closely with Dr. Hill Craddock of the Biology, Geology and Environmental Science Department in identifying and labeling trees.
Collins refused to take all of the credit and attributed the efforts to the many students, faculty, staff and administration involved in the process.
“We accomplished something — all of us together,” Collins said. “Again, the synergy… one plus one plus one equals far more than three.”
The arboretum acts as a force to preserve and promote biodiversity while also raising awareness of the importance of trees, according to Dr. Bradley Reynolds, Associate Department Head of the Biology, Geology and Environmental Science Department.
“Urban environments are already so compromised,” Reynolds said. “Anything you can do to provide cover and a place to raise young is very important for wildlife. The abundance of trees on campus also impacts student and faculty wellbeing. “Our green spaces and trees provide peaceful places to study or reflect, and certainly contribute to the aesthetics and beauty of our campus” Darger said.
Reynolds said that having so many trees on the UTC campus improves his mood.
“I think it has just sort of made me calmer, more relaxed, a little happier,” Reynolds said. “I really think nature has that impact on people, whether they realize it or not.”
UTC student McKenzie Jaynes, who serves as president of the Wildlife and Zoology Club, said she appreciates the biodiversity an urban forest brings to the city.
“I love that UTC can be represented in this way,” Jaynes said. “It gives our school a valuable asset, while also being able to contribute to scientific data on a national scale.”
Jaynes takes advantage of the green space for classwork, as well as relaxing.
“As a person who hates being inside, I will sit under a tree and do my homework, read, eat lunch or just relax — literally any time it is not raining or negative degrees outside,” she said.
Jaynes also finds others outside everyday, looking for ways to enjoy the outdoors or competing for prime Eno-ing trees.
“Nature and humans cannot exist without one another,” Jaynes said. “Their fate is interconnected. If we do not protect nature, human health will suffer drastically. As humans that utilize natural resources, the responsibility falls to us to be responsible and conscientious users of these resources.”
UTC’s Student Green Fee makes the arboretum’s certification possible. This fee processes $10 per student every term for numerous sustainability initiatives on campus, such as student-led projects, recycling, garden sites, bicycle racks, HVAC upgrades and more.
UTC’s ongoing sustainability efforts go beyond campus to serve the greater community. The university offers courses on urban gardening and environmental ethics, in which students have the opportunity to grow their own food or serve their community. UTC’s garden sites produced over two tons of food, which was donated to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.
“[The arboretum] is kind of like a catalyst for the bigger picture,” Darger said. “Sustainability is involved in everything, whether it’s business sustainability, finance, food [or] health.”