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New learning space at Arboretum opens with tributes to volunteers ringing in The Clearing

Students and visitors to the National Arboretum will be able to learn about endangered species, conservation and the variety of the ACT's native plants in a new education space unveiled on Friday.

The rock amphitheatre features large rocks, simple seating, gravel paths and native plants. It is located next to Forest 20 and a new display garden for plants used by Aboriginal people for food.

The Clearing, which displays more than 100 local plants, was built by Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park (STEP) volunteers.

They began developing Forest 20 in 2009 and the first planting took place in May 2011. 

The name The Clearing was the brainchild of landscaper Barbara Payne, who said she was inspired because "clearings were special places where light shone in and you could stop, look and listen to the bush... a partly covered space with gabion seating, where people gather to meet, have lunch, and take in the sounds and sights".

STEP president Margaret Bourke hoped the site would be used to educate more than just students.


 "Our aim… is that STEP will be able to educate the new citizens who come and build houses in the Molonglo Valley to come and consider using our native flora in their gardens," she said.

Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury said The Clearing was the latest milestone in establishing a southern tablelands regional botanic garden at the National Arboretum.

He said the educational space would not have been possible without the hard work of many volunteers.

"One of the special parts of the arboretum is the fact that community is heavily involved in developing it," he said.

"The friends, through groups like STEP, are really making this a special place, not just because of the plants but because of the sense of ownership of the Canberra community and the depth of feeling that goes into this wonderful development."

Although the development of Forest 20 has come a long way, STEP vice president David Shorthouse said the community group's vision was not complete and it was always looking for more volunteers.

"There is the physical work, the path maintenance… then there's the planting…  and there's always weeding to be done. So it's a variety of tasks and we can usually fit skills and interests to the task at hand," he said.

Passionate volunteer Judy Smith wrote a poem called The Clearing, dedicated to the volunteers who have worked on the project. 

"Let us walk through the forests of our minds, in dabbled shade and dark hollows," the poem reads.

"In tangles of forbs, creepers, climbers, which snatch at our imagination… to reach the clearing, where air and space and the longer view, bring us to the centre of ourselves."

The Clearing was funded by ACT environment grants and contributions from STEP members.