Botanical heaven at Landis Arborteum

ESPERANCE — For a decade, a man drove by the George Landis Arboretum sign on Lape Road but never came in.

Once people decide to stop in, their reaction is “Wow! What a beautiful place!” said Landis director Fred Beglia.

The goal is “getting people here for the first time,” he said. “When you come here, you’re going to come back. People just want to get out in nature.”

As its name suggests, the more than 300-acre site deliberately has a wide variety of trees. That’s just the beginning. The arboretum embraces many plants, flowers, animals—large and tiny, trails, creeks and ponds, arts and science events, picnicking, and a panoramic view of the Schoharie Valley from a 1,000-foot elevation.

The arboretum spans both Montgomery and Schoharie counties with one creek that runs almost entirely along the county line.

“All of our new trails are in Montgomery County,” said Beglia.

Not only does the arboretum have a wide area, but it has a lot of height and depth—whether its learning about creatures that creep or swim but also about celestial phenomena that are sometimes millions of light years away.

The site hosts free star parties run by Albany Area Amateur Astronomers. The cloudy and rainy weather lately hasn’t been kind to the astronomers, but Landis otherwise offers a place “where the skies are dark, and there’s not a lot of light pollution” from building and street lights, said Alan French, treasurer of the astronomy club.

The club offers both use of telescopes and education about the night sky. The way the planets are aligned right now they are low in the sky, which is better for the Southern Hemisphere.

For club members, seeing stars, galaxies, planets and nebula firsthand is like visiting the Grand Canyon rather than viewing it in photos, he said.

On a good night, for example, people can see details on planets such as Jupiter, including its belts and bands, its somewhat flatten poles, and the shadows of four of its moons as they pass across the planet, he said.

Back down to Earth, visitors can walk or hike on trails that are easy to moderate in difficulty. Streams, small waterfalls, ponds and flowers add to the beauty. On Aug. 10, Landis will sponsor its 13th perennial 5K Forest Walk/Run.

Breglia is at home in this kind of environment. He holds a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the state University at Cobleskill and is a certified arborist with the International Society of of Arboriculture. An avid hiker and fisherman, he has climbed the state’s 46 high peaks.

The variety of the arboretum’s trees and plants began with two academics, Fred Lape and George Landis. They shared a passion for collecting woody plants that would survive in the area’s temperate climate. Lape began by planting trees at his family home, the 19th-century Oak Nose Farm. The nonprofit arboretum was officially founded in 1951 and has grown in size and variety since then. It’s official mission remains “to foster the appreciation of trees and other plants and their importance in our envionment.”

Although the arboretum has improved its infrastructure since its founding—buildings and roadways, it tries to keep nature as unspoiled as possible. “We leave the dandelions in the lawns,” Breglia said.

Besides many later additions, the arboretum boasts an old growth forest. The trees may be as young as 80 years old, but “the average trees are older than 200 years,” said Breglia.

“We’re probably the best site for the native bluebird,” he said.

Landis also harvests honey from its beehive for sale and plans to expand that endeavor, he said, adding that the bees also are valued as pollinators.

Signage to help visitors better appreciate what they are seeing is continually improving, including QR codes for gathering information via cellphones.

Breglia brings in science and arts experts and does some teaching himself, including a class on pruning on June 21.

A frequent teacher is science educator George Steele, who has enlightened visitors about such subjects as birds, moths, amphibians and reptiles, insects, and pond ecology.

Breglia said Lape was “a Renaissance man,” so the arboretum has always hosted arts events. For example, the Upper Catskill String Quartet is slated to present the spectrum of George Gershwin music on June 30. Writing poetry, fiction and memoirs with a nature theme and Japanese Shibori fabric dyeing are among other events.

Breglia said the arboretum attracts artists, photographers and writers. It is also visited by K-12 classes, including homeschoolers. College students sometimes do projects there, and “we’ve had a lot of Eagle Scout projects,” Breglia said.

Although fees are charged for some programs, some are free, and the arboretum is open from dawn to dusk all year for people who just want to look around or picnic, as long as they mind their dogs, he said.

By Patricia Older

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