Connecticut was once a vast Mesozoic floodplain where dinosaurs roamed. It later became a great woodland, and many of the species that grew back in that prehistoric era still thrive in the state. Here are just five of the many arboretums in Connecticut where both the old and new forests are celebrated, and where visitors can both appreciate and learn about the great trees that stand guard over the state and its environment.
Connecticut College Arboretum
270 Mohegan Ave.
New London, CT 06320
New London was always Connecticut’s principal seaport, and its reverence for trees began back in the days of wooden ships and iron men. The Connecticut College Arboretum in New London continues that relationship with the great forests that covered the state back in Colonial days, and provides many opportunities for students and visitors to learn how to appreciate, conserve and sustain what remains of those majestic woodlands.
The Connecticut College Arboretum also reaches out to the business community and especially to professionals in landscape architecture and other fields whose livelihoods depend on or too often come into conflict with nature. In January, for example, the college is hosting a symposium for such professionals on “Assessing and Reassessing Ecological Design.” The Arboretum also sponsors and supports numerous environmental programs, including the “Notable Trees Project,” which has been devoted to identifying and saving the state’s oldest and most stately trees, some of which date back to Colonial times and even beyond.
Self and guided tours are available, and visitors are encouraged to walk (and in some areas jog) the trails while enjoying the hundreds of species of trees and plants that thrive on this 64-acre preserve along the ThamesRiver.
Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens
151 Brookdale Road
Stamford, CT 06903
The extensive and beautiful grounds of the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens are open to the public every day, rain or shine – or snow. Tucked away in Stamford, the Bartlett is a botanical masterpiece, an outdoor classroom that celebrates the glory of nature and the mighty trees that stand guard over the earth.
The Bartlett is also a center for education, and not just for students enrolled in nearby schools. It has adult and professional education courses in master gardening and arboriculture (offered in both English and Spanish) and supports community outreach programs to organizations and communities. There are many fun programs as well at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, including scouting activities, summer camp and camping programs and birthday parties that educate and engage as well as entertain partygoers of all ages.
The ECSU Arboretum
Eastern Connecticut State University
83 Windham St.
Willimantic, CT 06226
While the virtual walk available on its website is a nice teaser, it is a pale substitute for actually putting boots on the trails that wind through the ECSU Arboretum at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic. Designed as a gigantic outdoor “environmental field laboratory,” the ECSU Arboretum is more than just a nature preserve or even a classroom – it is a workplace for those serious about saving the trees and making the earth a better and more sustainable place.
At only 19 acres, it is smaller than many of the other arboretums in the state. But ECSC provides a unique and well-planned combination of many environments, from forest to swamp and from marsh to meadow. There are streams and a pond, and numerous trail markers to identify the type of habitat – and who and what thrives in it – that have been recreated throughout the property. As one local magazine rightfully notes, the ECSU Arboretum is one of the great “hidden treasures” of Connecticut.
The Palmer Arboretum
Woodstock, CT 06289
Located behind the Historical Society Building in the little town of Woodstock, The Palmer Arboretum is one of the smallest in the state, but size does not always matter. Established in 1914, the Palmer is also one of the oldest arboretums in the state, with a huge purple beach tree and a lovely grove of cypress that date back to when the land was still part of the Dean family estate.
Although for a long time neglected, 20 years ago a committee began the long and loving restoration of the property, and every tree and large shrub has been catalogued and spruced up to provide a new generation with a delightful and natural place to recreate themselves – and to learn something about the glory of nature while doing so.
Dinosaur State Park Arboretum
400 West St.
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
If trees and nature walks alone are not enough excitement to get kids (and parents alike) out of the house and into the woods, then the bones and footprints and other fossils at Dinosaur State Park Arboretum might just do the trick to turn couch potatoes into tree huggers. A very popular (and educational) destination for school and scouting groups, Dinosaur State Park Arboretum has as much to offer arborists as it offers paleontologists. The Arboretum includes and highlights many plant species that have been in Connecticut since the days when the dinosaurs roamed, and the attached museum has many dioramas and other exhibits that depict the Mesozoic floodplain that has since evolved into the Nutmeg State.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.