From the top of Utah State University's Old Main Hill is a vista no New Yorker could ever buy.
That view, down the grassy or snow-covered slope depending on the season is enhanced by myriad trees and shrubs. The aesthetics, created by diversity and terrain, with Logan below and the spectacular Wellsville Mountains pushing skyward, 10 miles away across the valley, impress the most seasoned traveler.The university's original landscape planning was done back in 1912, when there were relatively few trees on the campus, according to Craig Johnson, a USU landscape professor. The planting design followed the English romantic tradition, with informal groups of plants.
"Though the design is old, there are still good lessons," Johnson said. Birches unify the composition and are used in front of evergreens, providing a contrast of light and dark. In fall, deciduous trees and evergreens are splendid in green and gold.
The walkway to the amphitheater from the top of Old Main Hill commences with tall cottonwoods and a few majestic evergreens widely spaced. Below, the sloping walk is oriented toward the Logan Temple in the middle ground. In summer, you descend into thicker, shorter deciduous trees and an inviting shaded microclimate.
The campus arboretum with its 3,000 inventoried trees is used for education and scientific purposes. Classes from landscape architecture and environmental planning, plant science, biology, natural resources, engineering and art identify plants, study relationships of communities, survey the slopes, and paint, sketch and photograph the natural beauty.
On campus you will find spruce, Austrian pine, crab apples, Lombardy poplars, American elm, large maples, viburnums, Hawthorns and honey locust.
According to Dave Johnson, foreman of the 16-person full-time grounds crew, the largest and oldest trees are cottonwoods, about 100 years old.
There are ginkos, Russian olives, catalpas, the golden raintree and Kentucky coffee. There are enough feed trees and shrubs to attract assorted birds, including a recent wintering flock of crows roosting nightly in front of the Alumni House and Information Services Building. A small population of mule deer, which are not just winter residents, stays year round.
According to Wendell Morse, director of campus planning, efforts have been made to use native plants in areas where there is no irrigation. The development of a much greater variety of trees and shrubs would call for an expanded budget for maintenance, along with employment of a full-time arborist, who could devote expertise and effort on trees, shrubs and ground cover requiring special attention.
Funding is particularly short for the flora of the USU campus. Johnson makes use of 65 to 70 summer workers, rather than trying to keep a big staff year around. The grounds budget has been the same for about seven or eight years, he said.
With it, the crews handle all maintenance and somehow absorb the cost of landscaping new facilities constructed at USU. Their efforts are a benefit to the university, its students and the taxpayer, but the work is demanding on the employees, who also produce all the flowers, new trees and shrubs planted each year.
Unfortunately, there are those who don't take pride in the surroundings. Vandalism has occurred in recent years. Signs once adorned trees, identifying species for amateur botanists and students. Most of these have been pulled off. Trees outer bark is often damaged by chains used to secure bicycles, Johnson said.
Ruts are being created in the lawn by unthinking mountain bikers, by the occasional person who decides to drive his car or truck down the hill through the trees, and by pedestrians who won't use established walks.
"Few people stop to think of the work and time it has taken to create the natural USU campus environment," said Johnson, "or of the other values of the trees and shrubs.