PORTAGE | If the vision becomes a reality, Taltree Arboretum & Gardens in Union Township could be a global center for oak tree research and information.
"What better place to preserve our national tree than in the heartland of our country," Alexis Faust, president and CEO of Taltree, said as she presented the concept to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management Policy Committee on Thursday morning.
"We can connect with our past and reach out to our future."
Faust stressed the project — which would be part research facility and part museum — is just in the conceptual stages at this point.
Faust said The Oak Preserve, as it is being dubbed, would be the world's first research-based oak preserve dedicated to the study of the world's oak trees.
The conceptual design was created by Ralph Applebaum, the world-renowned museum architect known for designing the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Indiana State Museum. The campus on the northwest portion of the Taltree property would have a concentric ring theme like the rings of an oak tree.
The main building of pavilion in the center would be platinum LEED-certified indicating it meets the highest standard for environmental design, construction and operation, Faust said.
"It will become the heart of Taltree," she said.
The pavilion would include a multiuse oak cathedral, seed-to-table cafe featuring locally grown products, office space, research area, multimedia room and seed bank research area. More than half of the building would be underground, Faust said, to minimize impact on the land from the construction.
A milelong circular greenhouse with multiple climates, featuring more than 250 oaks from around the world, would surround the pavilion. Modern tree houses would be available for "glamping," or "glamor camping" as well.
Members of the NIRPC EMPC suggested Faust contact local schools, universities, museums, environmental groups and others as part of her outreach efforts on the concept.
"We don't want to duplicate efforts," Faust said. "I think we need to know (if) this make sense for this community."
Gary environmentalist Lee Botts said she would prefer the focus of such a project to be on native species.
"My hope is this center could also link to the restoration of native species of this region rather than focus on exotics from around the world so that it would become linked and part of the restoration efforts that are increasing in this region," Botts said.
Faust said the focus on the oak tree was born of the "tremendous collection we have of oak trees."