Connecting with the world outside of the “Muhlenbubble”: A look inside Muhlenberg’s Graver Arboretum

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A mere 35 minutes from Muhlenberg’s main campus exists a space unlike any other offered in our campus community. Graver Arboretum, a widely underutilized outdoor space owned and managed by Muhlenberg College, is a mystery to the majority of students on campus. When I’ve mentioned the Arboretum to friends and peers, I am often greeted with many confused expressions and questions ranging from “What’s an arboretum?” to “No way, Muhlenberg owns something like that?.” I was just as surprised as some of my classmates a year ago when I met Natalie Sobrinski, sustainability specialist and coordinator of the co-curricular and operational efforts of campus sustainability. Often coined as a museum of trees, arboretums are a beautiful example of how humans can engage with nature in a manner that does not cause harm to the living creatures who rely on these environments, while also finding joy and appreciation in their surroundings. 

As I began working with Sobrinski as an intern for the Office of Sustainability, I was greeted with several significant initiatives and projects that were in varying stages of development. One of the proposed efforts involved increasing student engagement and awareness of Graver Arboretum and, similarly to many other students on campus, I was shocked to learn that this resource and emblem of natural preservation was not already on my radar. Sorbrinski adds, “To improve the usage of Graver Arboretum we must make it accessible, engaging and integrated into academic and social experiences. Offering educational programs, recreational activities and transportation options can help make the arboretum a vibrant and valued part of campus life.” As a lover of nature preserves, arboretums and all things outdoors, I was determined to shed light on the opportunities available to the Muhlenberg community at Graver. 

The 63-acre arboretum was gifted to the College in 1994 by Dr. Lee and Virginia Graver, who were known and praised for their conservation efforts and love of nature. Since landing in Muhlenberg’s hands, the space and its usage have gone through many changes depending on its staffing and the student/faculty interests of the times. Tom Schotzbarger, certified arborist and grounds manager for Graver Arboretum is often at the forefront of making these programs and visits to the Arboretum come to fruition. Schotzbarger’s’s vast knowledge and passion for trees, plants and other natural elements have been an integral part of bringing new programming to life. This includes creative writing workshops both on-campus and on-site at the Arboretum in collaboration with Director of Creative Writing and Associate Professor of English Linda Miller and Stanley Road Professor of Neuroscience Jeremy Teissereire, Ph.D., happening later this month. Living on the Graver property, Schotzbarger is deeply connected to the Arboretum and its flourishment. When asked about what he believes makes Graver Arboretum special, Schotzbarger reflected on how “Graver Arboretum has miles of trails, wooded areas, ponds, wildlife, meadows, 3,000 rhododendrons and a conifer collection of trees from different parts of the world. Connect with nature, feel the peace, reflect on and refresh your perspective about the world we share.” 

There is nothing quite like stepping onto an arboretum. If you have never visited Graver Arboretum or another arboretum before, it is something truly magical. It’s hard to believe that cars are zooming by when the large, aging trees block their sound. The opportunity for quiet and connecting with the ground we stand on is often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of our everyday busy lives on campus. There are days when the sun sets and I realize my longest stretch of time outdoors involved my walk from Seegers to the sociology/anthropology department, a short seven minutes that do not begin to meet my desire to simply “be.” This is the case for many Muhlenberg students, who are often characterized for packing their schedules as tightly as possible. 

When you are surrounded by trees, the world feels as if can slow down, even just for a moment. Imagine what could happen if you committed to being outdoors for 15 minutes daily. What about 30 minutes? Or, even an hour? Each minute counts when there is an extra breeze that can land on your back. Outdoor spaces, such as Graver Arboretum, encourage you to slow down and look outside of the “Muhlenbubble” that spans across Chew Street. Find a few friends and take a trip down Route 22 to the home of over 150 species of conifer trees. You may be surprised by what you’re able to hear when the trees wrap you in their arms. 

Alyssa Kaplan ‘25 is the Marketing and Engagement Coordinator for Graver Arboretum through her internship with Muhlenberg’s Office of Sustainability.

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