They recently put up a wrought-iron fence around Margaret Sturtevant’s dream. It has pointy things at the top – the kind that would really hurt if you climbed over it and, well, slipped. That is the point of having all those pointy things, and I’ll get to the point of this momentarily.
Sturtevant, in 1994, began planting trees on family land at what is now the Hughson Arboretum and Gardens. Located along Whitmore Avenue east of Hughson High School, it’s a 9-acre forest with trails and benches and room to grow.
It’s a place where people can enjoy a peaceful stroll amid hundreds of oaks, redwoods, pepper trees, pines, mesquites, magnolias and more. Many of the trees have historic roots – both literally and figuratively – from a tulip grown from a seed from George Washington’s Mount Vernon to a cherry tree descending from one given by Japan and planted along the tidal basin in Washington, D.C., along with many others with impressive tree-N-A. Among them is an elm that survived the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Schools bring student groups to visit and to learn about trees. Hughson High’s cross country team trains there because its more enjoyable than being on campus.
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Despite some serious pitfalls, Sturtevant refused to give up on the project that began officially in 2002 as the Hughson Botanical Garden, a nonprofit organization. Its board hired an executive director who, in turn, hired a landscape architect firm that penciled out a $20 million Eden akin to British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens. Sturtevant told them to get real. They couldn’t raise even a quarter of that much money. And besides, the Valley is subject to droughts, and the arboretum needs to be sustainable under drought conditions.
So Sturtevant disbanded that board and the organization in 2006. Four years later, she created a new nonprofit – the Hughson Arboretum and Gardens – with a new board and a more defined focus. She’s 96 and her goal hasn’t changed. She wants to ensure the arboretum will stand, grow and be open to the public for decades to come. Board members, their families and area residents volunteer their time. So do Modesto Junior College students whose instructor, Dale Pollard, is the arboretum’s arborist.
The problem is that certain elements within the public don’t share Sturtevant’s vision. In fact, the new spiky fence won’t stop vandals from getting in until the current board can raise the money to buy two electric-powered gates costing about $8,000 apiece, which they are currently trying to do.
Several months ago, miscreants set fire to one of the pine trees on the east end. The tree survived, but the charred bark remains. They’ve also broken wooden posts set in place by Eagle Scouts. They’ve torn out young trees. They’ve pulled the pieces of the core from a giant ring of a North Coast redwood displayed at the arboretum. After a flood in 1964, it took an act of Congress to remove the redwood to reroute washed-out sections of Highway 101.
Thom Clark, current board president, said it would be difficult to put all the pieces back into their exact places so the number of rings can be counted to determine the tree’s age.
Metal thieves are another part of the problem.
“They trashed a steel monument from a corner post and took the rebar,” board member Craig Scott said. “And we have 400 metal plates (bearing information about the trees); we can’t even put them in because we know they’ll be stolen.”
The damage costs money the board obviously would rather use to add to the scenery, not continually repair and replace trees and features. If it can generate enough revenue, it can possibly hire a caretaker who can be on site to open and close the gates. Last weekend, the board hosted a gathering at the arboretum to thank its contributors and to re-emphasize its charter member fundraising effort.
It determined that 50 members committing to $200 each year will provide $10,000 a year to cover insurance, utilities and other operating expenses, while seeking additional donations to pay for the security gates. Companies will be approached for material donations including decomposed granite for the trails.
“Our volunteers have been good,” Clark said. “We get a project going and get the materials, and we’ll get 10 people out here right away.”
If the board members get the money and their way, they soon will be able to close the gates behind them when they go. Margaret Sturtevant’s dream will remain intact.
And perhaps those who try to scale the fence to do damage will get the point.
For more information, go to www.hughsonarbor.org.