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A man's love for trees

Plans dreamed up more than a half dozen years ago for an arboretum on the edge of Central Point are coming closer to fruition with a $36,000 boost from the Oregon Community Foundation.

City officials say design work for the Skyrman Arboretum is well underway after site clearing for the space and with funding in place.

Work to the 3.1 acre site likely will go to bid in November with construction beginning by spring.

The foundation provided $35,395 initial funding from the Wallace Skyrman Memorial Fund with additional funds promised upon successful completion of each phase of the project.

Known as "Wally," Skyrman set the wheels in motion in 2009 to ensure his triangle-shaped property along North Pacific Highway would be added to the city's parks inventory and be preserved for educational purposes.

Heidi Binder, donor relations officer for the region for the Oregon Community Foundation, said her organization was eager to help the city realize Skyrman's vision.

"The Skyrman property is a unique and rare collection of native plant species. At the time of his death five years ago, Wally gave the property to the city of Central Point to develop an arboretum," she said.

"He gave funds to the Oregon Community Foundation to help maintain and improve the property. His vision for the arboretum was to provide educational programs as well as public enjoyment."

Skyrman, who died in September 2010, was a recognized tree farmer, air quality advocate and educator whose chronic lung disease did little to sway him from Peace Corps Service, working with antique cars and motorcycles and tending his own urban forest just a stone's throw from his alma mater, Crater High School.

Fascinated with tree propagation, Skyrman and his family, which homesteaded the property in the 1800s, planted every tree species native to Oregon on the site just north of the Oregon State Police office, leaving a number of significant specimens — including the largest gray pine in the state.

The property includes two structures, Skyrman's home and a replica log cabin built for a bicentennial celebration in 1976, that will be converted to classroom space for programs in horticulture and tree propagation.

Park designs call for various educational areas and interpretive signs.

Parks and Public Works Director Matt Samitore said the land is "a beautiful site" with an extensive collection of mature trees, including some that could be recognized under the state's Heritage Tree program.

Parks and Recreation Manager Jennifer Boardman said the city was eager to add an arboretum to its inventory to provide an educational opportunity for students around the region.

"Our primary focus is obviously on the trees," she said. "Because Wally was so into education and teaching kids about different things, the focus we're going towards is making sure it's something where schools and other kids' groups are able to come in and learn about the trees and help with propagation."

"We're planning signage to show the different types of trees and little learning circles have been put into the design. What we really envision is getting school groups to come and use this as an outdoor classroom space."

Boardman said Covey Pardee Landscape Architects of Ashland will provide final construction documents by Thanksgiving with ground breaking by next spring.

Recreation coordinator Sarah Wright said she was excited to see all the ways that the planned "tree park" would round out the city's parks inventory for students and families.

"It'll be really cool for kids to experience a forest inside of our city," she said. "I don't think people realize how many parks we have. We'll get calls all the time to rent our park. Well, which one? We have 13 of them and this will be our 14th. ... This park will be very different from anything we already have. You definitely won't see any plastic play structures here."

On the web: http://www.centralpointoregon.gov/parksrec/page/skyrman-central-point-arboretum.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Parks and Recreation Coordinator Sarah Garceau Wright says Skyrman Arboretum will round out Central Point's parks inventory for students and families. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
A log cabin sits off Highway 99 on the Skyrman property. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell