Beyond the Trees

Jessica Cofer Blog

The role of a professional arborist can be as diverse and the person in the role – tasks certainly include the care and maintenance of trees, and can be so much more. Take Glen Wilson, NATS Lead Instructor and arborist with the LSU AgCenter Burden Museum & Gardens, a 440-acre historic property in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Over the course of his 20 years with LSU, Glen worked on the main university campus for six years before moving over to the AgCenter for the past 14 years.

“It’s kind of a unique property,” says Glen. “It was donated to LSU by the Burden family; it was their family farm before the Civil War, so it’s been there quite a long time. They had businesses in Baton Rouge, and it was kind of their country home outside of city limits. But now, it’s located in the middle of the city.”

While Glen primarily takes care of the trees at the AgCenter, he is often asked to do other things because of his ability to use various types of equipment.

“I still, basically, am a nuts and bolts arborist as it goes doing tree work,” explains Glen. “Because of the nature of the property and everything that goes on there, I get involved in a lot of other things.”

“One of the things I was asked to do was help build a Children’s Garden about seven or eight years ago,” he continues. Rather than primarily a place for children to play, the garden was designed to showcase different activities teachers could do at their schools to teach students
about gardening.

Following the Children’s Garden, an Herb Garden was developed, and then a Pollinator Garden featuring plants that bees and butterflies and other pollinators are attracted to. The Pollinator Garden also has nature- and pollinator-themed playground equipment such as a caterpillar, bees and dragonflies.

Right across the road from the Pollinator Garden is a grove of Live Oaks with camellias and azaleas; “a really nice shaded area.” Taking advantage of the coveted shade on hot Louisiana days, Glen was asked to build the Oak Grove Playground.

“I was responsible for most of the physical construction of the first two gardens,” says Glen. “But the Oak Grove Playground is entirely my arborist-inspired endeavor – all its features involve trees.”

In August, Glen installed a balance beam course made from Cherry Bark Oak trunk and Tulip Tree beams. He received some of the materials from his friends and colleagues in the industry, including a 16-foot-long section of Cypress trunk that was completely hollow and a solid Cypress stump.

“I try to purpose wood from removals on the property as much as possible,” explains Glen. “The Cherry Bark Oak fell over in a storm and the Tulip Tree ‘cants’ were left over from the recent Conclave completion hosted at Burden by LSU Forestry. It took quite a few precision bore cuts to put the pieces together.”

According to Glen, due to its uniqueness and perhaps the fact that it is a nicely shaded spot in the Baton Rouge heat, the Oak Grove Playground, which is free and open to the public, is very popular among families with young children. Glen says that every day of the week there are mothers who come in with their children, “and they hang out for a couple of hours. On the weekends, there are tons of people who go through there.”

“For me, it’s pretty cool that I get to recycle wood…to be able to do something with the wood, especially to have the kids enjoy it,” Glen explains. “I have a 3 year old granddaughter; I take her out there fairly often and she loves to play in there.”

Now that the Oak Grove Playground is set for awhile, what’s next on Glen’s agenda aside from tree work?

“One of the latest things I’m working on is helping to build some bat condos,” he says of a project he’s working on with an LSU wildlife professor.

Like we said, the tasks of a professional arborist can be quite diverse.