University of Tennessee Arboretum Society
By Charlie Jernigan, President, UT Arboretum Society
The UT Arboretum was founded in 1964 when the Atomic Energy Commission donated over 2200 acres in Oak Ridge to the University of Tennessee for research and public outreach. To support the establishment and operation of an arboretum on this site, the UT Arboretum Society (UTAS) was created and became an active organization in 1965. The UT Arboretum Society is the oldest volunteer organization formed to support the University of Tennessee, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015.
The Arboretum is located at 901 S. Illinois Avenue in Oak Ridge. Its 250 acres and Visitors Center are accessible from the parking lot where you enter. From here visitors have access to more than 7 miles of self-guided, intersecting trails of easy to moderate difficulty. The major plant collections are only about a ½-mile walk from the parking lot.
The UT Arboretum Society sponsors numerous public events throughout the year including lectures, hikes, and educational and fun events for the family. Our New Year’s Day and Father/Daughter hikes, wildflower walks, a fall Owl Prowl, and a Geocaching Day Camp for middle school students are all very popular. Recent lecture topics include natural phenomena like weather and earthquakes; native plants; pollinators; local bats; and travel.
UTAS raises funds through large plant sales in spring and fall and a spring garden tour that supplement membership dues and contributions. Our own special plants often include newly developed specimens not yet widely available. A Butterfly Festival will be added to our summer activities this year with demonstrations, lectures, and hands-on training of interest to the whole family, including a monarch butterfly release.
In 2015 a new auditorium opened in the center of the Arboretum, built to facilitate new types of programs and give us more flexibility in case of inclement weather. It also serves as another source of funding for the Arboretum through event rentals for weddings, corporate retreats, training, and more.
The UT Arboretum Society has its own outreach program that includes press releases to the media on upcoming events, Branches, a quarterly newsletter, web and Facebook pages, and an active email list with participants managing their own enrollment. All these help keep the public well-informed about our important events.
The University of Tennessee Arboretum is a unique extension to other facilities in Oak Ridge that encourage people to get outside and enjoy our natural world. Our trails and plant collections, built into this urban forest, complement the City of Oak Ridge Greenways, the fabulous off-road bike trails at Haw Ridge Park, and the recreational opportunities on our waterways.