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Mountain Top Arboretum builds new education center

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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene MediaBill Logan gives an author talk at the Mountain Top Arboretum's new education center Sunday.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media An educational tree-identification guide for the center.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media The Mountain Top Arboretum's new education center in Tannersville.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media "Book-matching" technique used in the education center to create symmetry by splitting a tree and using both halves.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media The masonry work at the center was done using local materials.
September 3, 2018 12:15 am

TANNERSVILLE— The Mountain Top Arboretum had its first event in its newly created education center Sunday.

The Arboretum hosted an author talk with Bill Logan about his book “OAK: The Frame of Civilization” on Sunday at 5 p.m. in the new education center. Logan’s presentation delved into the role oak trees have had throughout time in civilizations across the world. The talk served as the inaugural opening for the new education center.

“There will be a more official opening in the spring,” Chairman Larry McCaffrey said.

The event drew over a hundred people, Simon Williams, chairperson of the Educational Committee, said.

The education center is expected to be a real turning point for the Arboretum.

“We had no event space previously,” said McCaffrey. “We had to rely on good weather or tents.”

Because of this, the Arboretum’s seasonal schedule was from May to September, the opposite of what was needed to connect with schools, McCaffrey said.

“We needed a permanent, enclosed education space,” McCaffrey said.

The center will now offer year-round programs for schools and to deal with environmental issues, he said.

“We’ll have presenters and some classes will be more interactive, like our planting, pruning or potting classes,” McCaffrey said.

For the winter season, the center will have one program per month, Williams said.

“We’ll have programs for poetry, potions, animal tracking, making bird feeders and astronomy,” Williams said.

Some of the organization’s popular summer programs include mushroom walks, bird walks, a bog tour and a reading series for children offered in association with the Mountain Top Library.

“We’ll have 20-30 kids at those [the library programs],” Williams said.

The Arboretum also partners with the Mountain Top Historical Society for some events.

The education center is expected to be a unique venue for the programs.

The goal with the building was to use one tree of every species from the Arboretum, as long as it was the right size, architect Jack Sobon said, adding that the stone for the masonry work was supplied from the foundation hole on site.

“We used 21 species altogether,” Sobon said. “We couldn’t use some species such as willows, cottonwood or box elder.”

The building serves as an educational tool, Sobon added.

“Some people don’t recognize the species without its leaves and bark,” he said.

The building also shows visitors the art of timber framing.

“We even used horses to drag the logs,” Sobon said.

The construction took 18 months, McCaffrey noted.

A guideline for the building was to have a tree of every species within seven feet of the floor, Sobon said, adding that people wouldn’t really notice the wood on the ceiling.

“The trees have more organic shapes,” Sobon said, adding that the higher altitude and rougher ice and wind conditions make the tree more crooked, and consequently more difficult to work with.

“These trees would typically be used for firewood, not timber,” Sobon said.

Some tricks to creating symmetry with the wood are book-matching and slip-matching, Sobon said.

Book-matching is when the craftsman splits the wood in two and uses the two pieces like an open book so they have matching grain, Sobon said, pointing them out on the walls of the building.

Slip-matching is when the craftsman creates many pieces of wood from the same tree and uses them in order, Sobon said, pointing out the technique on the floor boards.

The building still needs to have chandeliers installed, wooden chairs made and have some landscaping done before its official opening in the spring.

The new center was funded primarily by donations and about 10 percent came from state grants and the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“We had 70 sources [of funding],” McCaffrey said. “We had seven local businesses and 60 personal or private donations.”

Logan also voiced support for the new center.

“It’s very interesting to see this kind of craftwork,” Logan said. “It [timber framing] is a peculiar and important kind of intelligence that we’re losing.”