By Jimmy Isaac firstname.lastname@example.org Reporter - Sep 7, 2017
City and county utility crews met under a Longview Arboretum canopy early Wednesday in the latest step to build the 26-acre botanical garden.
"This is the groundbreaking for the arboretum," arboretum board member Suzanne Cook said, as workers with Longview Public Works and Gregg County Road and Bridge met with surveyors and designers to begin clearing underbrush and constructing trails at the planned Longview Arboretum and Nature Center.
"They're going to start digging dirt," Cook said.
The board has raised at least $1.4 million in cash and pledges, with Phase 1 work estimated at $1.5 million. Funds raised include a $200,000 Texas Parks and Wildlife grant.
"We're hoping to use county trusties to help demolish part of the building that needs to come down," Cook said. "It's not free, obviously, but pro bono-type stuff as we possibly can."
Southern Survey Co. crews marked demarcation lines as crews formed a plan that preserves certain hardwoods and other plants while ensuring that workers don't overstep each other or trespass on private property.
"We're going to work from the outside coming back this way," Gregg County Pct. 4 Commissioner John Mathis said, "and the trees we wrapped, we keep."
Commissioners meet next week to formally approve helping the arboretum board, then crews will "hit it really hard for two weeks" starting around Sept. 18, board member Bob Metzler said.
Workers and equipment from all three county road and bridge crews have agreed to help in clearing arboretum lands, organizers said.
"The county is always glad to help our constituents, especially on something that is a nice quality-of-life issue like this is," Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd said, "and it's a very positive thing for us to be able to support the community."
Directors said a formal groundbreaking will be held in the coming weeks, but they wanted to get a head start on groundwork.
In 2015, Gregg County road crews cleared underbrush from a wooded area east of Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center. The City Council later earmarked $50,000 that year to seed the project.
The Longview Arboretum and Nature Center will have about 50,000 plants that grow in East Texas brought to the complex during construction, Cook said.
(Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)