Map to the Trees

Student uses GIS to help LEAF Arboretum

The New York Stock Exchange was created beneath a tree: On May 17, 1792, a small group of merchants gathered beneath a leafy buttonwood in front of 68 Wall St. to set rules for how their securities would be traded. The result, known as the “Buttonwood Agreement,” set commissions at one-quarter of a percent.

The tree stood for seventy more years before falling in a storm. It was called a buttonwood—that type of wood was a common source for butcher’s blocks and for coat buttons—but it was actually an American planetree, also known as a sycamore.

A sister tree stands in the LEAF Arboretum, in Erie’s Frontier Park. That version, a Bloodgood London variety, is one of more than 255 unique species in the arboretum, many of which were donated as memorials to family members.

Michael Curtis knows it well. Curtis, a Penn State Behrend Science major, used GPS location tools to map the arboretum, matching individual trees—a persimmon, a corkscrew willow, a Mount Fuji flowering cherry—to the corresponding memorial plaques. With guidance from Michael Naber, lecturer in geosciences, and code developed by two other Penn State Behrend students, Abel Lopez and Alexander Yochim, he created a web-based map with interactive data points for each tree, bench, and memorial stone in the park.

“I had to systematically walk to and document every single tree,” said Curtis, a senior. “That took a lot of time. It’s a big park, and it feels a lot bigger when you’re doing that kind of work.”

The LEAF website links to the map (leaferie.org/gps-locator/), which has clickable pushpins for each tree and plaque. The data also can be accessed from a smartphone or tablet, giving arboretum visitors a real-time resource while they are exploring the park.

“I really like that people are using it,” Curtis said. “Especially the kids. It’s another way for them to connect to and engage better with the environment they’re in.”