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In 1981 the Maine Forest Service began development of the Arboretum.  During that year, 120 trees were planted and construction of fences, bridges, trails, and a boardwalk began.  In 1982, a private non-profit corporation was formed to manage the 224-acre parcel.  In 1990, the Viles Visitors Center was built. An Education Wing was added in 2003.

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In 2010, the Arboretum was officially named Viles Arboretum to honor William Payson Viles (1986) and Elsie Pike Viles (2013), who were instrumental in establishing the Arboretum and in providing guidance and financial support.