The Rotary Club of Milwaukee celebrated its centennial anniversary with a contribution that will dramatically enhance the riverfront and the community—a contribution that is in keeping with our strong history of community giving. Check out the Arboretum in the video below, produced by Midland Video and narrated by Rick White, RCM President 2012-13!




Under the leadership of the Urban Ecology Center, RCM and its partners— the River Revitalization Foundation, the Milwaukee Urban Rivers Foundation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the County and the City—developed the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum as the gateway to the Milwaukee Greenway on abandoned post-industrial land. The Arboretum opened on September 28, 2013 to commemorate the Club’s 100th anniversary.


The arboretum extends from North Avenue to Locust Street, stretching upward through Riverside Park. It is bounded on the west by the Milwaukee River and the east by the Oak Leaf Trail. Universally accessible trails run through the area, connecting the river trails to the community.



The $400,000 contributed by Rotary members was the catalyst for building the partnerships responsible for the project valued at over $8 million dollars. The 40 acre Arboretum includes:


  • A stunning stone archway gracing the main entrance

  • A newly planted oak savannah—a rare, native habitat

  • 3.7 miles of trails

  • 2,700 newly planted native trees representing more than 70 species originally found in this area

  • 4,300 native shrubs and 60,000 native grasses and wild flowers

  • Three distinct outdoor learning areas for school children and many "imaginature" stations for exploring

  • Amenities including  a new pedestrian bridge, a wheelchair accessible canoe launch and additional parking

  • An estimated 300,000 visitors per year

  • A preservation endowment seeded with at least $600,000


The Arboretum is a biologically diverse native ecosystem that will serve as an important recreational, teaching and research center.


Federal and State support have been key to the development of the Arboretum. The Wisconsin DNR been a partner in the planning the project since its inception. Funding support from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program allowed us to complete the land acquisition. A Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the EPA recognizes that enhancing the land quality along the river will improve the water quality of the Milwaukee River which feeds directly into Lake Michigan.


Ken Leinbach, Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center shared his enthusiasm: “We are thrilled to share in a once in a lifetime opportunity to convert old industrial land along the revitalized Milwaukee River into a natural jewel for the city -- a living forest classroom that our grandchildren will be able to enjoy and share with their grandchildren many generations to come.”


For some background on the project, check out a year's worth of newsletter articles in our Spotlight on the Arboretum.


We broke ground on the arboretum in June 2010, with special guest RI President Ray Klinginsmith in attendance. View the video!


The Arboretum project was the recipient of a 1.3 million dollar grant from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program. This was a key element of the project funding which will ensure public access to an important natural resource.