Under Blatherwick's guidance, the students are creating the arboretum on a half-acre swatch of land between Edgewood Junior and Senior. The project began to take root last year when Edgewood won a $3,000 grant from the Pinelands Commission.
When finished this spring, the arboretum - which Blatherwick called, ``basically, a tree zoo'' - will include: a pond with native fish, an adjoining marsh with insect-eating plants, and a footbridge between the two; sugar sand swills; wooded areas with nature trails; flower gardens designed to attract butterflies; and benches and tables where, eventually, Blatherwick hopes, teachers will hold class in good weather.
Norm Blair, an Edgewood Junior science teacher who has been helping out with the project, said the arboretum will be so varied and complete that it will be ``a little too contrived.'' You would never find every Pineland plant variety in a half-acre section of the actual Pinelands, he explained.
``But that's what we're going for,'' Blair said, ``so the kids can see all the diversity.''
The Pinelands grant covers the purchase of plants but not other supplies. The Sierra Club contributed a $100 grant. To cover the rest, students in the environmental club raised more than $1,200 through a raffle and T-shirt sales.
The high school plans to run electrical lines out to the arboretum to run the pond pump.
``The Pinelands are a really unique ecosystem, and too many kids - even though they live in the area - don't know anything about it,'' Blatherwick said. ``So I thought: Why stop with an arboretum? Why not have a whole nature-study center?''
Eventually, he hopes to give educational tours through the arboretum to local elementary school students to teach them about the Pinelands.
Ryan Sullivan, 17, said he often hikes through the Pinelands and likes the idea of having a miniature version in the shadow of his high school.
``It's a great idea,'' he said, ``but you can't really recreate the whole thing.''
Rodio looked at the plants on the edge of the marsh and the sapling pine trees.
``When it's spring and the trees actually have leaves, it'll look a lot better,'' she said. ``Now they're just sticks, but people are going to think it's really cool.''
Leah Kucheruck, 16, agreed.
``Yeah,'' she said, ``they're going to be spellbound.''