Oncologists Bill Taylor, Rama Koya and Margaret Schottstaedt arrived Saturday morning for the grand opening of the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center to see the plot their employer donated for a garden.
“Looking for tubers, not tumors,” Koya quipped, alluding to oncologists treating cancer.
However, the doctors from Texas Oncology-Longview Cancer Center apparently were so entranced by the landscaped grounds that they walked by the garden without noticing its plaque. Bottlebrush has been planted at the garden, and a bench is in the works, Taylor said.
Taylor was not disappointed by not spotting the garden at first in the 11 acres of the 26-acre site that has been developed at the arboretum, east of the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.
“It allowed us to see the entire place,” Taylor said.
The three doctors were among the people who flocked Saturday to Longview’s newest attraction — what Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt called a “gem.” They found their garden shortly before the half-hour dedication ceremony at 11:30 a.m. at the Water’s Edge Stage, which overlooks the Lilly Pad Pond.
The ceremony drew an estimated 300 people who heard speakers laud the contributions of donors, volunteers, sponsors and Longview voters, who this past November supported a $104 million bond measure that earmarked $1.5 million for the arboretum.
The arboretum’s board hired renowned horticulturist Steven Chamblee as the center’s executive director ahead of the grand opening.
Emcee Kimberly Fish mentioned the late Dencil Marsh, who originated the idea of building the arboretum on the Grace Creek floodplain and spent years cultivating the idea to officials and groups.
“This is more than a park dedicated to trees,” Fish said.
A succession of officials approached the podium to give short speeches: state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; Stoudt; Marsh’s widow, Narcene; District 1 Councilman Ed Moore; Bob Metzler, board president of the arboretum and nature center; and Sharon Williamson, district director for state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, a former mayor of the city.
“This is a gem for Longview,” said Stoudt, who stood with Marsh’s widow.
The arboretum is a $5.5 million investment, Metzler said.
“It is going to be better, more beautiful,” he added. “Come back often.”
Arboretum officials stressed that the 11 acres are only the first phase of the project, with more work to be done.
“We hope within the next couple of years we will be substantially complete,” Suzanne Cook, fundraising chairwoman, said before the ceremony. “It depends on how much the community supports it, and I think they will.”
Meanwhile, attendees marveled Saturday while walking along the concrete paths to view existing pine trees; the planting of trees, shrubs and other vegetation; and water features. They snapped photos, with some painting scenes.
The arboretum is one of the reasons Mitchell and Janel Garnett said they decided to retire to Longview from Snohomish, Washington. Both master gardeners, they said they a conducted a morning tour of the grounds.
Over by the stage, Mary Jean Davis of the Urban Sketchers of Longview group — and a retired art teacher at Hallsville High School — made a small watercolor painting of guitarist Mike Austell, a former Longview resident who now lives in Canton.
“I just think it is a particularly spectacular site — just the ambiance, the colors, the trees,” Davis said.
Nicolas Lopez, 7, of Longview expressed a similar view after he snapped photos of his family sitting at a bench at the Hilltop Gazebo.
“It’s awesome because I like seeing all of the beautiful nature here,” Nicolas said.
Inside the Visitor and Nature Center, children made bird feeders out of pine cones, peanut butter and seeds.
Courtney Weaver of Longview said she plans to decorate her dinner table on Thanksgiving Day with “turkeys” that her sons made from the pine cones.