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N.C. Botanical Garden begins renovation of Coker Arbor

Coker Arboretum is being renovated, as pictured on Oct. 13, 2022.

Students walking down East Cameron Avenue may have noticed bare wooden posts where colorful vines once encased a natural hallway. 

The North Carolina Botanical Garden has begun a renovation of the Coker Arbor, the covered walkway that signifies the entrance to Coker Arboretum, intended to make it safer, more accessible and more attractive. 

“The big goals there are to make it accessible for everyone and easy to move along, like any other campus standard walkway,” Daniel Stern, the director of horticulture at the NCBG, said.

A major reason for the renovation is the inaccessibility of the current walkway. The path under the arbor ends with stairs that prevent some individuals from utilizing the space. Plans for the renovation include converting the walkway to a sloping path with no stairs at the end.

There have also been concerns about collisions between pedestrians and vehicles around the entrances to the arbor, which parallels Cameron Avenue. The new arbor will be further removed from the street and include larger entry points to avoid accidents.

“That's a very congested and very blind corner — just really dangerous for an intersection between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,” Stern said. “And so in doing this renovation and changing the elevation of a walkway, we have an opportunity to really open that area up so it's safer for people to travel across that part of campus.”

Employees from the Botanical Garden have removed vines from the arbor to prepare for the removal of the wooden posts, which will commence after final exams, when students leave campus for winter break. 

The NCBG hopes to have the structure fully dismantled by the beginning of the spring semester so the walkway can be used by pedestrians. Construction on the walkway will begin either by late summer or the fall of 2023, and new vines will be planted in the following months. 

“People will still have their beloved arbor for their graduation pictures in just the blink of an eye,”  Arboretum Curator Margo MacIntyre said. “So only one year without it, and then the vines grow super fast, unbelievably fast.”

The wood arbor was last restored in 1998, and the black locust posts that hold up the vines have begun to deteriorate. The wooden posts will be replaced during the renovation. 

“What may be different is the spacing of posts. We are looking at this as an opportunity to open up some better views into the Arboretum, so that more people are attracted into the interior of that garden,” Stern said. 

The current arbor consists mainly of American wisteria, a vine native to the southeast United States. Although the wisteria will continue to play a major role in the vines of the arbor, some of the other vines will be replaced. 

“We have certainly felt like, after living with this planting for 25 years, some things are working better than others,” Stern said. 

The Botanical Garden hopes this renovation will make the Coker Arboretum accessible to all who wish to enjoy the walkway and the nature surrounding it.

Many students find the arboretum to be a place of peace throughout the stressors of college. 

“I think of it as a place of flowers and just walking through it makes me feel relaxed,” first-year Priya Patel said.

The NCBG is collaborating with Andropogon Associates to develop the design plan for the new arbor. The walkway renovation is being funded through UNC Facilities Services, and the new arbor will be supported by private donations made to the Botanical Garden.

“We're going to preserve the rustic character of the arbor that's been a part of our campus for over 100 years,” Stern said.


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