Blooming flowers and ornamental shrubs greet visitors at the parking lot of Close Memorial Park and lead them away from Springfield’s urban bustle. A paved path takes them to Anne Drummond Lake, where calming views of swimming waterfowl and perhaps a great blue heron wading at the well-manicured lake’s far end help visitors unwind from the day’s tensions.
The 54-acre park offers more than relaxation and escape, however. This city-owned park also serves as an arboretum, so it’s a great place to learn about the trees of Missouri.
Arboretums are places where many varieties of trees and shrubs are grown for exhibition or study. The primary purpose of the arboretum at Close Park is to educate visitors about the tree species that have called Missouri home since pre-settlement days. Many of the native species growing there are marked with signs providing information about the tree’s characteristics, preferred habitats and, in some cases, historical uses.
“People are always asking questions about trees,” said C. Major Close, son of the park’s namesake—Cephas Major Close—and an active volunteer at the arboretum. “They can come here [to the park] and this tells them something about trees.”
A sign by a shagbark hickory in the north part of the park, for example, reveals that this species was once used for wagon-wheel spokes and hubs. A sign accompanying a broad-trunked shingle oak tucked away on the east end of Close Park tells visitors how our pioneer forefathers commonly used these trees as a source of shingles for their buildings.
Not every sign gives a history lesson; one can also learn about the diversity of Missouri’s forested terrain. Seventeen types of oak trees native to Missouri are represented at the arboretum. All the information together tells the important story of Missouri’s landscape.
“A lot of our history is coming through in this arboretum,” said Springfield-Greene County Director of Parks Jodie Adams. “It’s important that we never lose focus of the native resources that truly developed our park lands and our natural areas. The arboretum is a very important part of our parks system.”
The arboretum contains more than 60 native species, some of which are represented by more than one tree and a lesser number of non-native ornamentals. The precise number of trees at the park fluctuates due to ongoing plantings and natural losses, like those that resulted from the January 2007 ice storm.
“I do not know of another city park in this part of the state that has a designated collection of native trees planted and identified,” said Cindy Garner, a Missouri Department of Conservation urban forester who works in the agency’s 17-county Southwest Region. “Even a casual stroll through the park will allow people to learn how to identify Missouri’s native trees.”
Close Park’s arboretum isn’t entirely devoted to native trees. It also includes non-native species that are marked by small signs that give the taxonomic and common names of trees, but no other information.
Close Memorial Park, which opened in June, 2001, is a choice site for an arboretum. At the time of its purchase in the mid-1990s, the site already had a number of mature trees, good soil and plenty of water in the form of the pond and a small stream that trickles across the area.
It also enjoys a good location. Close Park adjoins Nathaniel Greene Park, a city-owned 60-acre park with a number of amenities and events that draw thousands of visitors to the site each year. Close Park also is dissected by the South Creek/Wilson’s Creek Greenways Trail, a recreational route that brings a large number of joggers, cyclists and walkers through the site.
The Close Family Foundation assisted the Springfield-Greene County Parks Department in acquiring the land. Early in the project, Close came up with the idea for an arboretum.
“I was working closely with Cindy Jobe from the Park Board,” Close recalled. “I remember she had a book that had something about Missouri trees. I looked at that and saw that we had a certain amount of native trees out there already. I thought ‘Well, why don’t we just continue that collection.’ And it’s grown from that.”
The Missouri Department of Conservation assisted with the arboretum’s development with a $10,000 grant that covered the costs of planting 57 native trees and adding permanent signage next to the trees and at the park’s entrance. The grant also paid for the removal of dead trees and for the proper trimming of existing trees.
Justine Gartner, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s forestry field program supervisor, said it was money well spent.
“An arboretum like the one at Close Park gives Missourians the opportunity to look at and enjoy trees that they may not have been exposed to otherwise,” she said. “Such efforts are a great way to promote little-known trees that would be wonderful plants for a yard or landscape.
“For those who are interested in tree identification, an arboretum is a wonderful outdoor classroom that can test your knowledge or help you learn about new plants,” Gartner said.
The arboretum at Close Park demonstrates the importance of partnerships and citizen volunteers. The arboretum’s main partners are the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, the Close Family, the University of Missouri Extension and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“In general, working together with other organizations helps make a better end product,” Gartner said. “Each organization or agency brings a different perspective and a different set of skills and contacts. The synergy which results from a partnership of closely allied groups can have some astounding results.”
Adams said the arboretum serves as an example of how valuable volunteers are to an organization. Close Memorial Park offers 54 acres of relaxation and escape in addition to native Missouri trees.
“If we didn’t have volunteers, this wouldn’t be a state-of-the-art department,” Adams said, referring to the Gold Medal Award the Springfield-Greene County Park Board received from the National Recreation and Park Association in 2000. “We need volunteers so desperately because we can’t do all the work with paid personnel.”
No duties are too big—or too menial—for those who volunteer countless hours developing the arboretum.
“We help plant trees, we mulch trees, we trim trees—we do whatever needs to be done,” Close said. “I’m just the person who does things. I’m not an expert by any means. There are people who know the Latin names of the trees and things of that nature, but that’s not me. Those people are specialists. I guess you could say I’m a generalist.”
Specialists and generalists alike are still needed at the park because the arboretum at Close Park is a work in progress. Plantings of more trees are planned as species and funds become available. A botanical center is planned that will not only highlight the arboretum but will also emphasize the floral components of both Close Memorial Park and its next-door neighbor, Nathaniel Greene Park.
Close is also working with several high schools and local universities in Springfield to make the arboretum an educational tool that could be used by area classrooms.
But Close is quick to add that you don’t have to be a student to get an education at Close Park’s arboretum. Anyone who wants to take time to read the signs can learn more about Missouri’s trees.
“You know, we all grow up amongst all these trees, but we don’t really know what’s out there,” he said. “We’re hoping to increase the tree education of everyone that goes to the park.”
Just as Missouri’s highly successful Stream Team program has brought increased attention to the state’s waterways, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri is helping to improve the state’s forests.
This program, which is administered in Missouri through the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Community Forestry Council, encourages volunteers to become actively involved in caring for the state’s trees. It has five primary goals:
To get information on how to get involved with Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, contact your regional Missouri Department of Conservation office or see the links listed below.
Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Arleasha Mays
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Ruby
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler