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Nature walk project 30 years in the making set to open in fall
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The Trans-California Pathways Project, brainchild of former California State University, Stanislaus professor Wayne Pierce, is expected to be used as an outdoor classroom, offering hands-on experience with plants students would previously only read about.

Lying alongside Monte Vista Avenue, just past Geer Road, a nearly-completed California State University, Stanislaus arboretum will stand as a living testament to a professor’s vision.

It all started nearly 30 years ago, when a group of CSU Stanislaus botany professors decided their nascent campus was in need of trees.

They planted 300 Valley Oak acorns in a grove alongside Monte Vista Avenue. Then, for three years, Professor Wayne Pierce and his friends watered those acorns by hand, dragging buckets of water from the nearest spigot.

Today, about 50 strong oak trees still stand, a testament to Pierce’s vision. But a grander part of his vision – something he called the Trans-California Pathways Project – remained unfinished.

That grove of oak trees was always planned as the finishing point of a walk through California’s plant life, with different segments representing different regions of the state. Rather than drive hours to see plant species, Pierce wanted to grow them all on campus, grouped by their natural habitats.

When Pierce passed away in 2008, the project returned to the forefront, championed by his wife, Donna Pierce. In 2009, Donna Pierce led the long awaited Trans-California Pathways Project groundbreaking.

“This university was his life,” said Donna Pierce. “He put his heart and soul into teaching and would love the idea of students benefitting from this project for generations to come. I can’t think of a better way to honor him, and our shared values of preservation conservation and generosity.”

The design under construction today is based on Wayne Pierce’s original, with a winding river, still ponds, and a plethora of California’s native plants. A few minor changes were necessitated by modern accessibility laws, but the heart of the project remains the same: bringing the state’s plants to a single pathway.

That pathway still journeys from the hearty conifers of the Sierras, to foothill shrubbery, down to the very Valley Oaks planted by Pierce himself. A granite-lined “interpretive path” with signs will help visitors learn about the various forms of vegetation. Benches will let students and the public alike sit and soak in the scenery.

Students are expected to make frequent use of the pathway as an outdoor classroom, offering hands-on experience with plants they would previously only read about. Landscapers, too, are expected to learn more about planting local, water-efficient greenery by visiting the project.

“There are definitely some species being planted here that aren’t anywhere else on campus,” said Melody Maffei, interim associate vice president of facilities services at CSU Stanislaus.

The river and path are already in place, with the irrigation system tabbed for completion by month’s end. Public planting days – some plants being grown specifically for the project by local nurseries – are expected in June, with a formal opening scheduled for fall.

The approximately $250,000 project has been funded entirely by private donations, most of them small in size.

The CSU Stanislaus class of 2012, in particular, has taken the project under their wing as the senior class gift. A paper tree in the student bookstore is festooned with leaves bearing the names of donors as planners look to earn $20.12 donations from 800 of the 2,200 graduating seniors, helping to purchase signage, trees, and plants for the project.

The campaign urges seniors to “leaf” their mark on CSU Stanislaus, just as Wayne Pierce did.

 “Seniors are excited about this project because they know future generations of CSU Stanislaus students will benefit from their contribution, just as they have benefitted from the work of the students and faculty who planted the first oak seedlings 30 years ago,” said Shannon Nichols, director of alumni relations and annual giving.

To donate, visit, or send a check payable to CSUS Foundation, CSU Stanislaus, One University Circle, Turlock CA 95382.