October 1 marked the end of my first year at the Arboretum. This anniversary, combined with amazing autumn weather, gave me a chance to walk the trails and reflect on the year. While I can’t imagine ever living somewhere without four distinct seasons, spring and autumn remind me why I love Wisconsin so much (and it’s not just because they don’t have mosquitos!).
On one walk, I left through the Visitor Center back door on one of my favorite loops. As I wound through different Arboretum ecosystems on one of my favorite walks—through the Native Plant Garden, past Teal Pond, through Gallistel and then Wingra woods, and back through Longenecker Horticultural Gardens—I saw dozens of people out enjoying the Arboretum on the lovely day. There were families, young and not-so-young couples, and people on their own. Some ambled and stopped to look at animals, plants, and effigy mounds; others walked briskly; and some were running. In their own ways, everyone was making connections with nature. Fostering these people-nature connections is one reason we are here, and it warmed my heart to see so many people choosing this place to connect.
We don’t expect visitors to be aware of all the work our garden and land management staff have done to care for the land. But as I walked I contemplated all that they achieve. I appreciated not only the contributions of our current staff and volunteers but also of all the people in the decades since the Arboretum was dedicated in 1934. Together, individuals from the past and present have restored and conserved this land as a reminder of what covered much of Wisconsin only a few hundred years ago, and selected and studied trees and shrubs that can withstand our Wisconsin climate. Caring for and continuing this legacy is another reason we are here, and my walk made me happy to be part of this team.
When I returned through the Longenecker Gardens arch into the parking lot, I saw a school bus that had just arrived for a tour. Elementary students poured off the bus and were greeted by some of our talented and knowledgeable naturalists. The children were excited and happy for whatever adventure lay ahead—perhaps a hike to learn about effigy mounds and Native American history, glacial geology, or prairies and forests. Providing learning experiences in nature and science-based instruction for children is another reason that we are here, and seeing them provided a perfect end to my midday break.
At the end of our October staff meeting, when our ranger Stephanie Petersen presented the unit’s work to repair flood-damaged trails, I was prompted again to reflect on how much I love this job. This was not a lovely day, but the staff trooped out in the rain to see how she, the student rangers, and the land care crew had repaired deep gullies that washed out near Curtis Pond. She described how she had “geeked out” on innovative water diversion strategies, and it was fun and rewarding to see the work, even though it meant traversing muddy trails. We continued around Curtis Pond and back through the prairie, where we forded deep water running over the path.
We have a dedicated and hard-working team who go out of their way to learn from each other, who help make the Arboretum a respite for all visitors, who appreciate the legacy of the Arboretum, who provide educational opportunities to the public—and who are even willing to get their feet wet as part of their job!
—Karen Oberhauser, Arboretum director