The Formation Era—1909 through 1934: Clement Price
Clement Price examining his first crop of Black Locust. Photo courtesy of UI Special Collections & Archives - #1-218-009.
In 1909, Charles H. Shattuck received permission from the Board of Regents to use 15 acres of a steep, thistle-covered hillside, “an unsightly disfiguration back of campus,” to establish an arboretum. Because plants were only available from eastern nurseries and were expensive, Shattuck concluded, “It was evident that we must grow our own trees from seed.”
In March 1910, during what Shattuck called “the hottest and driest March wind ever known in Latah County,” seeds were sown. Shattuck, expecting a humiliating failure, left campus for the summer leaving Clement Price to tend the seedlings. When Shattuck returned he discovered “.... many of the trees were not only alive, but had made vigorous growth, and the seedbeds, while late, had an excellent stand of the most lusty seedlings I had ever seen, the combined results of method, soil and care.” In all, Shattuck, Price and student helpers had planted some 12,000 trees comprising 130 species in the five acres of the arboretum.
The Clark-McNary Act of 1926 lead to expansion in purpose and facilities of the Forest Nursery and the nursery became the defacto state nursery. In anticipation of increased requests for trees, the University leased 27 acres along Sweet Avenue.
In 1932, the Associated Foresters cleared a site and constructed a stone fireplace for gatherings on the northeast side of the arboretum as memorial to Clement Price’s years of dedication. Since 18 May 1932, this area is known as Price Green. Nurseryman Price retired in 1934.
The Student Era—1939 through 1979: Franklin H. Pitkin
Franklin H. Pitkin examining seedlings in cold storage. Photo courtesy of UI Special Collections & Archives - #3-860a.
A nursery worker from 1934, Frank Pitkin was appointed manager in 1939; a position he held for 40 years. Many would echo the sentiments of Paul Easterbrook, Class of ’42 who said “Without Frank's encouragement and help, not to mention those $0.25 per hour jobs pulling seedlings, many of us would not have made it through”. The nursery shipped bareroot seedlings to county extension agents statewide, promoting conservation and reforestation efforts. Pitkin was an advocate for integrating students into the day-to-day nursery operations. Nursery facilities, storage, garage, cooler, shop, and two residence buildings were located on Sweet Avenue.
In 1956, the Parker Farm (200 acres) located along the Troy Highway (Idaho 8) was purchased by the College of Forestry for $100,000. Nursery beds were developed and a shop and garage building was constructed. Seedlings were grown at the Sweet Avenue site and at Parker Farm. Pitkin began construction of two fiberglass greenhouses (34' x 108') at the Parker Farm nursery site in 1978 and retired in July 1979.
To his friends, “Pit” was an amiable man. His most prominent legacy is the snag standing in the lobby of the College of Natural Resources. Pit helped select, and oversaw the harvest, delivery, and installation of the whitebark pine snag during construction of the new CNR building in 1970. In 1989 the nursery site at Parker Farm was dedicated in memory of Franklin H. Pitkin, and in 2002 the production nursery was renamed in his honor. A scholarship fund in his memory helps support students interested in nursery management.
The Technology Era—1979 through 2005: Dr. David L. Wenny
David Wenny with container-grown seedlings
Dave Wenny joined the faculty 1 August 1979. The spring 1980 crop was the first university crop sown into fumigated soil and the first sown in rows to facilitate mechanized weeding and root pruning. This was also the first crop where weeds were controlled with herbicides. The Skinner irrigation system was replaced with a solid set system to improve irrigation uniformity. The greenhouses at Parker Farm were still under construction and had gravel floors, cedar benches with wire screen tops, florescent lighting, oil heaters, manually controlled ventilation, four homemade irrigation booms, no nutrient injection system, and lacked automated environmental controls.
In 1982, the bareroot crops were plowed under terminating bareroot operations because the silt-clay soils and poor drainage at Parker Farm prohibited lifting of quality seedlings. Emphasis shifted to container seedling production. Between 1982 and 2005, the original nursery infrastructure was completely replaced with state-of-the-art standards, and additional equipment and facilities (micropropagation laboratory, storage freezer, office building, outdoor growing area, storage building, precision seeder, nutrient injection system).
In 1984 the first graduate student was hired with the title of assistant manager. The following year, the Idaho Department of Lands requested a long-term seedling production agreement with the University. The State Board of Regents approved the agreement and construction of three new greenhouses. A new, private container nursery claimed unfair competition launching a statewide debate on private versus public competition, resulting in representatives of Idaho’s nursery industry and the University forming the Nursery Advisory Committee to foster communication and enhance research at the facility. The nursery was renamed the Forest Research Nursery to reflect that new focus. Between 1984 and 2005, the Research Nursery published 158 publications, a variety of graduate student theses, technology transfer publications, research updates, and results of research projects in proceedings and scientific journals. Since 1987, the Nursery Advisory Committee has met almost annually to discuss nursery operations and hear about research findings. Generally, every other year since 1987 the Nursery has sponsored a nursery management-related workshop to nursery managers. From 1987 to the present, the nursery has assumed responsibility to coordinate the annual Intermountain Container Seedling Growers' Association meeting.
In 1991, the Nursery was required to vacate Sweet Avenue facilities for University development, and by 1994 all Nursery staff were located at Parker Farm. The production component of the nursery, the Frank Pitkin Forest Nursery, and the research component were collectively named the Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research in 2002.
Dave Wenny was honored by the College as the Outstanding Researcher in 1989 and for Outstanding Continuing Education and Service in 1994. He also received the prestigious University’s Excellence in Outreach Award in 2005. Dave retired in June 2005, leaving a state-of-the-art, efficient, automated seedling production facility as well as research laboratories and facilities.