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A segment of the Palomar College Arboretum trails will be upgraded to be handicapped accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Photo by Steve Horn
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Palomar College breaks ground on arboretum upgrades

SAN MARCOS — One of the biggest botanical gardens in San Diego County, which also happens to be a large community college campus, broke ground on enhancements at a March 15 ceremony.

Palomar College’s Edwin and Frances Hunter Arboretum, a 10-acre size formation, encompasses much of the San Marcos campus.

The sprawling park has served as a mainstay for 45 years and will soon provide access to disabled individuals, improve irrigation and install a water well to decrease reliance on the San Marcos municipal water system.

Palomar College president Joi Lin Blake and Board of Governor members break ground for Arboretum renovations. Photo by Steve Horn

“For nearly 50 years this very special part of the campus has provided students and visitors with a quiet, serene space to relax,” Joi Lin Blake, President of Palomar College, said in her groundbreaking ceremony speech. “In addition, a number of classes conduct field studies in the arboretum, and the ability for students to have field experience in this beautiful setting has been invaluable. We are so fortunate to have a corner of the campus dedicated to preserving nature, and through the upcoming upgrades even more students and visitors will have access to the beauty offered in this unique environment.”

Guests of the college’s San Marcos campus would have a hard time getting to classroom space without first crossing through the Arboretum.

The shortest route from the guest parking lot to campus cuts straight through the Arboretum’s trails.

The Palomar College arboretum represents the largest collection of exotic trees and plants in the entire county, behind Encinitas-based San Diego Botanic Garden and the San Diego Zoo.

The bounty includes a catalogue of plants representing every major continent on the planet and consists of 600 different species.

“If you consider all the species in the Arboretum (over 600), main campus (at least 1000), Palomar Cactus & Succulent Garden (at least 3,000), and native coastal sage scrub north and east of campus (approximately 400), the total number of different species is nearly 5,000,” explains Palomar College on its website. “This is one of the greatest concentrations of plant diversity within a relatively small area in San Diego County.”

The plants on display include myriad bamboo and palm tree varieties from around the world, Native American botany, Australian plants, among many others.

Most plants are labelled and provide some history, making a trip to the Palomar College Arboretum a museum-like biology lesson.

Palomar College — the campus at-large, due to having rare plants dotting the entire campus and having a massive succulent garden on a seperate part of campus land — enjoys a Level II arboretum distinction via ArbNet, a global accreditation network for tree-focused professionals.

The distinction entails having at least 100 different labeled trees or woody plant species, paid management staff, a clear and spelled out arboretum plan, both public access and educational programs, as well as keeping an on-the-books collections policy.

Tony Rangel, supervisor for grounds services at Palomar College, said the arboretum takes a legion of volunteers and staff dedicated to caring for five acres of flora and fauna.

“Places like this can’t be maintained and sustained without the community’s involvement,” said Rangel, a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. “And that ranges from volunteers, to donors, to just people walking through.”

Rangel said he is excited for the looming renovations so that more people have access to it.

“Each semester, I see countless students, staff, faculty and community members walking the trails of our unique arboretum,” said Rangel at the groundbreaking ceremony. “The new trails will at last allow everyone to be an ambassador … to the arboretum, by providing those with disabilities a safe path that they can traverse at their leisure. Something that has been lacking since the arboretum was conceived in the early 1970s.”

Blake closed her speech saying that the college’s arboretum was a major draw for her to accept her position at Palomar College.

“You know, when I interviewed for the job here, I did some research on the college and I looked at the arboretum,” she said. “It spoke to the spirit of who Palomar is. It spoke to its commitment to preserving the environment. It spoke to the vision that the college has and its role in society and supporting sustainability. And so, I really appreciated that.”

Guests can visit the Palomar College arboretum free of charge. The arboretum will temporarily close for six to eight months to complete improvements but is expected to reopen later this year or early 2020.