JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A historic Johnson City neighborhood is now home to a new state-certified arboretum.

As the arboretum’s focal point, South Side School hosted a grand opening Thursday. 

Several dozen people attended the opening and heard from partners including the school, Southside Neighborhood Organization and the city of Johnson City. TUFC’s Ashley Kite officially welcomed what is just the third neighborhood arboretum in the state (the other two are in Memphis) into the TUFC fold. 

A visitor to Thursday’s grand opening takes a stab at identifying some of the 80 species included in the arboretum.

City Forester for Johnson City Patrick Walding helped identify and certify 80 separate species to qualify the arboretum for the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council (TUFC) certified program.

This is the first neighborhood arboretum in Northeast Tennessee and it is located in the ‘Tree Streets’ of Johnson City.

“The Tree Streets is a perfect place for that because they’re all within walking distance, along the street, so they’re not in people’s back yards or anything like that, but the main thing is to draw attention to the trees in the area,” Walding told News Channel 11.

“We are thrilled to join in a project that provides so many learning opportunities for our students,” South Side Principal Kaytee Jones said. “Beyond the obvious science connection, visual arts, math and language arts can be incorporated into interactions with the arboretum.” 

Nancy Miles, a teacher at the school, has applied for a Tennessee Valley Authority STEM grant that would provide backpacks complete with gear to be “citizen scientists” on their own campus and neighborhood.

Identifying signage for each species includes scientific and common name, a fact about the species and a QR code linking to a webpage with more information on that tree.

Thursday’s event next to Veterans Park included a tree identification matching game allowing visitors to match a variety of trees with their leaves, fruits, seeds and other parts. Miles led a tour through South Side’s campus that visited more than a dozen species.

Each designated tree has a sign identifying its scientific and common names as well as another feature about the species. The signs have QR codes linking to that tree’s individual page on the Tree Streets arboretum webpage, hosted by Plants Map. The homepage has an interactive map that identifies each tree’s location. 

TUFC’s Kite said Northeast Tennessee’s first neighborhood arboretum will offer a particularly accessible way for many people to learn about trees and their benefits to people and the environment. And like two TUFC arboreta in established Memphis neighborhoods, this one is full of stories and opportunities for partnerships, she said.  

“This arboretum is going to be a great asset to our neighborhood for years to come,” Southside Neighborhood Organization President Lynnea Salinas said. “We love our trees here in the Tree Streets, and I’m excited that neighbors and visitors will be able to walk our neighborhood and learn the identities of dozens of species.” 

Johnson City’s Tree Streets arboretum is the first state-certified neighborhood arboretum in East Tennessee.

“People remember planting some of these trees and have special memories attached to them,” Kite said. That opens opportunities for the project to expand into storytelling and art. With an elementary school as its centerpiece and a university with its resources right next door, I expect this arboretum to become a rich part of Johnson City’s fabric.” 

The Tree Streets arboretum is a certified Level II (61-90 species) TUFC arboretum with 80 species. Its boundaries are Maple and Poplar streets on the north and south, and University Parkway and Roan Street on the west and east. 

Retired East Tennessee State University professor Tim McDowell, who helped establish an arboretum at ETSU that contains roughly 200 species, worked with Walding to certify the Tree Streets species.

It includes a mix of native and non-native species. 

To learn more about the Tree Streets arboretum, you can visit their website by clicking here.