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Dial a tree

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T’ai Roulston, curator for the Virginia State Arboretum in Boyce, holds out a branch of a Nordman fir with sprouting male cones at the arboretum. The arboretum is accepting voice recordings to audition for the “Voice for Trees” project. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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T'ai Roulston sits outside a grove of conifers at the Virginia State Arboretum. — Rich Cooley/Daily

Project accepting voice auditions for tours on Conifer Trail

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

BOYCE -- The State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce will soon add a new feature to the Conifer trail: a voice.

By June, visitors to the trail should be able to approach one of nine different trees, "dial" it from their phone, and then hear a minute long story or history of the tree.

Instead of using staff voices, the arboretum is looking for outside participation.

"We're always looking for ways to reach out to the public," said Steve Carroll, director of public programs.

Those interested can simply call the arboretum on a special number and leave their audition reading as a voicemail, or send a reading done on their own recording device. Everyone is asked to audition with the same section of text, which is part of one of the tree's descriptions.

The nine trees with "voices" will also have plaques with short descriptions, be included in the trail's brochure, and have additional info on the arboretum's website.

The Conifer Trail is home to a collection that features one-third of the world's pine species, as well as some that are less common.

There are a total of 23 trees on the trail, which is still having work done to it. A sign marking the beginning of the Conifer Trail is in place, and the corresponding brochure is 90 percent complete, Carroll said.

T'ai Roulston, the arboretum's curator and leader of the project, said the idea came from a combination of the growing use of technology and that other arboretums are conducting similar trail experiences.

"We wanted to lengthen and improve upon the Conifer Trail, and the Dial-A-Tree is one more way to get information to people," Roulston said.

Some trees will have a more factually based "voice" that details taxonomic information about it, while others have a lighter, more cultural story. In choosing which trees would get voices, Roulston said staff went through the trail and picked the trees that they were most inclined to stop and take a look at.

"Like the Arizona Cypress ... it was the favorite tree of the arboretum's first director, and his and his wife's ashes are sprinkled around the tree," he said.

So far, 18 individuals have sent auditions in, but Roulston wants to wait until the submission deadline to sit down and listen to all of them.

"I don't think we really know what we're looking for," Roulston said of the voices. All the submissions are from valley citizens so far, except for one.

"One professional speaker called from D.C.," he added.

Once all the auditions are submitted on April 15, arboretum staff will choose three applicants to record three tree descriptions each. Those selected will have their names on the arboretum's website and be able to plant an honorary or memorial tree, something that would normally cost $1,200.

The project as a whole has been in the works for about a year, and cost about $2,500 in grants, said Carroll. If the Dial-A-Tree part of the trail is successful, Carroll said it might expand to other plants and trails.

"These trees have very different stories to tell, so we have to match the voices accordingly," Roulston said. "When we're going through them, we have to ask 'Does this voice pull us in?'"

For more information on how to audition, go to www.blandy.virginia.edu.

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