Cowling Arboretum, often just called the Arb, is an outdoor area consisting of approximately 880 acres of preserved land owned by the college. The size of the Arboretum has steadily increased since the initial purchase by President Donald J. Cowling.
Cowling Arboretum was originally nicknamed "Cowling's Folly," because many people connected with the college thought the large purchase of land was unwise in a time of economic recession and tight college budgets. The Arboretum has since become one of the defining features of the Carleton campus.
Covering about 880 acres of land, the Arb dwarfs the main portion of campus. Divided by Highway 19 into the Upper and Lower Arb, it continues north from the Rec Center all the way up to the Northfield town limits.
The Upper Arb
The Upper Arb, which is the portion closer to campus, is significantly smaller than its counterpart. The Upper Arb does, however, provide bike trails and more developed trailheads for hiking; it is also home to at least one Druids' circle. Also found in the Upper Arb is the Hill of Three Oaks, a camping site complete with fire, picnic locations, and beautiful views of Carleton.
Students can be frequently found biking and walking through the Upper Arb in search of a quiet place to talk and take in nature or simply in search of a nice walk. The Upper Arb is accessible via many trails, one of which is found immediately in front of The Rec Center.
The Lower Arb
Unlike its southern counterpart, the Lower Arb does not allow bikes and is significantly less "developed." On the other hand, this portion of the Arb is almost more mysterious and daunting than the rest of the Arb. Rumored home to more Druids' circles as well as many other sites, the Lower Arb is a giant place fit for exploring. Very few students, if any, are truly familiar with the entirety of the Lower Arb, as it makes up the majority of 880 acres that is the Arb.
Until the 1970s, the Arb was the scene of much of Carleton's social life. It was one of the few places that amorous activities and the consumption of alcoholic beverages took place. Dorm floor residents regularly organized Arb parties. "Arb" was often used as a verb with meanings determined by the number of people accompanying the speaker to the Arb. The spring "Waiters and Sculleys Party" (organized by dining room waiters and dishwashers who worked for the Carleton Food Service) was reputedly the largest drunken orgy of the year.
The Arb is still a popular place to hang out for students. On warm days, many students can be found exploring the reaches of the Upper Arb with a friend or two. An Arb Walk is sometimes used as a segue into a more romantic encounter.