‘Narnia’s’ history, from tree sanctuary to campus hangout spot

Almost 50 years ago, the trees near Heritage Park Towers were saved from the path of a local highway

Kevin+Carver+%7C+Contributing+Photographer

Kevin Carver | Contributing Photographer

Mackenzie Guiry, Contributing Writer

From people setting up their hammocks to studying at one of the tables, the area dotted with trees outside Heritage Park Towers is bustling with students on a daily basis.

What they may not know is that those trees were saved from destruction 47 years ago.  

The late John M. Freeman, a professor in the math department from 1964-2012, founded the area, nicknamed “Narnia,” as a sanctuary for different types of trees in 1971.

His passion for the environment led to a large-scale rescue effort, saving trees that were “due for destruction” as the Boca part of I-95 was constructed.

But he didn’t accomplish it without help.

From local students to dozens of Boca community organizations to the then-Florida governor, Freeman sought support from every level he could.

FAU Student Government members, former university President Kenneth Williams, and college service organization Circle K International helped finance the effort, according to Financial Affairs senior Vice President Dennis Crudele.

Real estate corporation Arvida and paving company Hardrives supplied machinery and labor, while the State of Florida contributed bulldozers and forestry experts. Then-Governor Reubin Askew provided materials as well.

With their help, alongside FAU students, faculty, and alumni, Freeman transplanted hundreds of trees from the I-95 pathway and Highway A1A to the Boca campus.

Kevin Carver | Contributing Photographer

From magnolia and cypress trees to gumbo limbos and saw palmettos, the trees were placed throughout campus, with dozens planted in front of what would later be Heritage Park Towers.

While the park is now commonly referred to as “Narnia,” it was originally called “The Forest” by students following the opening of HPT in 2004. Since the trees’ planting, FAU’s referred to the area as “Heritage Park.”

Larry Faerman, dean of students and associate vice president, said students didn’t start nicknaming it “Narnia” until about 2011.

FAU tour guide Ana Isabel Escobar said, “People think sometimes that the film was created there. We just call it that because it creates the feeling of ‘Narnia.’”

Joshua Giron | Photo Editor

“We all say that it’s like a meeting point, everyone’s like, ‘Oh we meet at Narnia,’ and everyone knows where that is,” she continued.

Over the years, FAU has removed dozens of trees from around campus, including Freeman’s sanctuary, that sustained damage from various hurricanes, most recently Hurricane Irma.

Despite this, “Narnia” still stands in front of HPT and Indian River Towers.

A year after Freeman’s passing, Crudele received approval from the FAU Board of Trustees to honor the professor and his preservation work by renaming the area, “The John M. Freeman Heritage Park.”

Mackenzie Guiry is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].