Just a few decades ago Cedar Crest College perched on the as-yet-undeveloped western fringe of Allentown. Its neighbors were a few businesses and homes, and fields which were still planted by farmers--or, if not planted by humankind, still offered opportunities for such edible harvests as mushrooms, dandelion, and black walnuts. All in their respective seasons, of course.
These days all that is natural in the neighborhood seems gone, lost in a jumble of shopping centers, hotels, clinics, offices, and whatever. Not to mention the tendrils of what used to be quiet little Dorney Park, which seems to have grown almost beyond recognition.
In the midst of all this commercial clutter and tumult, though, the possibility of peace radiance from the college itself. It's hardly the Isle of the Blessed--no school is--but it IS a place where you can spend an hour or two learning about nature, or just enjoying relative quiet. And you can do it free of charge.
That is because the 84 acre campus, down from its original 104 acres, doubles as the William F. Curtis Arboretum, a nationally recognized public park. Trees of 140 species may be found on the grounds, most or all of them tagged with identification so visitors may know what they are looking at.
The usual standards of conduct apply: no littering, and above all no pulling leaves or branches from the trees. According to arboretum curator Dr. Kelly Austin this has been a problem, especially with children's tour groups. Visitors are welcome to pick up leaves that are already on the ground.
And who was William F. Curtis, whose name graces this fine facility? He was the seventh president of Cedar Crest, and the man who acquired the land on which the college now stands. When Dr. Curtis had a speaking engagement he would ask for payment in trees or shrubs, to be planted on the then-barren campus. The only tree that was there when the land was purchased in 1915 was a giant black walnut in what became the center of the quad. Those who remember it thought it would last forever; but a howling storm brought it down in 1983.
But it lived to find itself surrounded by groves, thanks in large part to the initiative of Dr. Curtis and his successors.
Groups wishing to visit the arboretum may make arrangements for a free guided tour. Go to the website at www.cedarcrest.edu/ca/arboretum , where there is a form to fill out and return to the college. Or call the college at 800-360-1222 for information.
If you would like to come by yourself, there is a self-guided tour map available. Simply come to the visitors' desk at the Tompkins Student Union building and ask for one.
And, above all, enjoy.