Arbor Day & Cottam's Gulch

April 26, 2024
Above: Cottam's Gulch, Credit: Mathew Crawley

On this Arbor Day: The legacy of botanist Walter Cottam transformed U campus into a living laboratory. How the university became Utah's official arboretum, home to 9,600 trees on its main campus, featuring at least 250 species from around the world.

Back in the 1930s, University of Utah administrators had a plan for a natural gully that ran past the then-new Thomas Building (now housing the Crocker Science Center) south of Presidents Circle. That proposal was to fill it and and stick more buildings there.


Botany professor Walter Cottam had a different idea for the spot. How about a botanical feature filled with exotic trees? This vision for what became known as Cottam’s Gulch somehow prevailed, and ultimately proliferated around the U where Cottam and colleagues went on a decades-long tree-planting spree.

Thanks to those efforts, the Utah Legislature in 1961 designated the booming campus as the state’s official arboretum, to “provide resources and facilities for cultivating a greater knowledge and public appreciation for the trees and plants around us, as well as those growing in remote sections of the country and world.”

More than 60 years later, main campus is home to 9,600 trees representing 250 species and many more different varieties within species. With Arbor Day upon us (April 26), now is the time to tour the campus arboretum with trees beginning to leaf and blossom.

Bring a smartphone so you can scan the QR codes found on placards attached to about 100 trees, most of them within or near Presidents Circle.

Read the full story by Brian Maffly and take a guided tour of the gulch in @ The U. Read a previous article about Cottam's Gulch by Ann Jardine Bardsley BA'84 here.