Tucked into the forest down Woody Mountain Road, The Arboretum at Flagstaff is nestled right among the trees and hidden from the outside world. The doors opened for another season of visitors April 15. With trails that circle around the land and trees and shrubs that line those trails, visitors are given an opportunity to find a getaway spot.
Located in the northern part of the state, people may forget that the rest of Arizona is covered with reptiles and vegetation that thrive off the scarcity of water. With areas surrounded by ponderosa pines as far as the eye can see, there are secrets and mysteries that surround this forested environment.
The history of The Arboretum could be described as a gift that keeps on giving. According to Arboretum’s website, founder Francis McAllister was passing through Flagstaff by train in the 1930s. As a wedding gift, her husband John Vickers McAllister bought a cabin and a parcel of land that the family used as a summer vacationing spot to marvel at the San Francisco Peaks. After the passing of her husband in 1967, McAllister decided to move to Flagstaff full time and try experiments on the exotic plants that grew at 7,000 feet. This property is now known as The Arboretum.
Volunteer and tour coordinator Shannon Benjamin explained what The Arboretum does for the community many years later.
“Arbor means tree, so it basically means a garden that has trees,” Benjamin said. “Now we are a somewhat unusual arboretum — we don’t have a fancy, manicured English tea garden. Our mission is all about the plants and plant communities of the Colorado Plateau.”
The mission statement of The Arboretum is to teach people about the history of the native plants in the region and to help them conserve the species native to the Colorado Plateau.
Benjamin said The Arboretum is trying to educate people in the area about these special plants by teaming up with local schools in Flagstaff to teach students about caring for the environment. She said teaching the youth about this concept is one of the things that gets her up in the morning.
“It is just so exciting to see here in Flagstaff,” Benjamin said. “The kids here spend so much time indoors and getting them out here, they come to life. They are so excited to be outside, to explore, to learn and get their hands dirty. With the state of the world as it is, seeing them develop the love of nature is really rewarding.”
The people who work at The Arboretum have many stories about their journeys. Benjamin was working at a desk job and wanted to change that.
“I have been at a job for eight years and I was stuck behind a computer,” Benjamin said. “I really wanted to get back to my passion of outdoor education, visitor experience and being outside, and this position became open.”
Caretaker and gift shop employee Lyndsey Starkey was in need of a job when a local posting caught her eye.
“We were looking for a job as caretakers,” Starkey said. “There was this website called Working Couples, and The Arb had this job listed on there.”
Garden Supervisor Chad O’Leary was in need of some credits for school and internship hours. He found that The Arboretum was the best way to satisfy both those needs.
“I need some internship hours for school and I did that out here,” O’Leary said. “I was visiting schools while I was in high school. I came up here and came out to their [Birds of Prey] shows back when we were doing those shows.”
Being so secluded from the city, people might have a tough time getting to or finding The Arboretum. Starkey said that for how great the facility is, it could use more interest from NAU students.
“We have a student membership, and I think it is totally underutilized by the students,” Starkey said. “If they want to come out here they can walk our trails. They can sit and enjoy the quiet and nature.”
With the new season starting, it may be some time before the plant life shows its true colors. Within a few months, The Arboretum will be in full bloom and can serve as a getaway spot for the summer.