Spotlight on the Arboretum



With our centennial year beginning soon and the opening of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum scheduled for next year, we are “resting” the Spotlight on Service Award to shine the spotlight on the Arboretum. Each month we’ll use this space to tell a piece of the Arboretum story


September: The Milwaukee River Greenway


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


As impressive as it is, the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum does not stand on its own.  The 40 acre Arboretum is located at the southern end of the Milwaukee River Greenway, which covers a 6 mile stretch of the Milwaukee River, from Silver Spring Drive to the former North Avenue Dam.


The Greenway is comprised of 878 acres, containing 12 public parks as well as other urban wilderness areas, and 28 miles of trails.  To fully understand and appreciate the Arboretum, it is important to understand its context within the larger Greenway.


The Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition formed as a result of grassroots efforts in 2006 to protect six miles of urban river from insensitive development.  The Coalition is composed of leaders from jurisdictions in the Greenway area, as well as five nonprofit organizations involved in activities in the area.  


With the Coalition's leadership, in 2006 the Village of Shorewood and in 2010 in the City of Milwaukee both passed shoreline protection measures that protect areas along the river, limit building heights, and establish mandatory setbacks from the river shore.  These measures preserve the scenic beauty of the river valley and protect wildlife habitat.


In 2010, the Coalition released the Milwaukee River Greenway Master Plan:  A Vision for Recreation and Restoration and has been leading the implementation of that plan ever since.


The Master Plan sets forth a vision for a unique urban wilderness containing shared recreational opportunities and restored natural communities.  This twin vision of ecological restoration and recreation are central to the conception of the Greenway.  The Plan includes steps for habitat restoration within the 500 acres of Primary Environmental Corridor.  It also calls for a new 13 mile system of trails in the area that will help residents and visitors connect with nature.


The plan also emphasizes the development of a recognizable brand and signage program to help foster awareness of the Greenway. This signage was designed by Thiel Design and fabricated by GenMet, companies led by Rotarians John Thiel and Eric Isbister, respectively.


August: Designing and Building the Entrance


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


From its conception, an important part of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum has always been an iconic feature at the main entrance.  In 2011, a task force made up of representatives of Rotary and Urban Ecology Center was charged with determining what that would be.


A request for proposals was issued and four artists were selected to present concepts.  Designs were judged based on aesthetic qualities as well as the extent to which they embodied the values of the partner organizations.


The design committee’s requirements were a tall order. They asked for designs that would: complement the original work of Frederick Law Ohmsted who designed Riverside Park; honor the Native Americans who lived in the area for thousands of years; be fun and educational for the children who visit the Arboretum; serve as a unique icon which defines the new Arboretum; be ecofriendly and organic; and last at least 100 years.


The committee selected Rotarian Mario Costantini’s design as the winner.  Inspired by the timeless arch shape, Mario’s vision of a tall arch constructed of stone boulders captured the imaginations of the selection committee.  “I believe this primitive, or rustic, arch entrance will amaze visitors to the Arboretum, both young and old alike,” Mario says.


Nicholas Tomkins guides the placement of the center stone via crane. Image courtesy of NS Stoneworks.

Armed with his design, Mario set out to find a stone artisan capable of building the arch.  Contacts with quarries around the area led him to Nicholas Tomkins of NS Stoneworks.  Mario says: “In truth, the idea and design of this arch was the easy part. I am very fortunate and grateful to have found Nick for this very challenging project.”


Nicholas spent the spring of 2013 scouring the state for suitable stones.  In June he and his team began the work of building the arch.  This consisted of creating suitable contact surfaces and carefully balancing each stone in place.  The stones have been worked to stand as a natural arch but will be reinforced with epoxy and rebar when installed.  The completed arch will stand twenty feet tall with an eight foot wide opening.


This entrance will be known as the “Edward R. Wagner and Lewis G. Kranick Entrance” in honor of two Rotary Past Presidents, as a result of the substantial gift from the Kranick family. The iconic stone arch will welcome visitors to the Arboretum for generations, inspiring a sense of wonder. 



July: Environmental Education Opportunities


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


Every once in a while at the Urban Ecology Center a staff member has such a positive experience that they feel compelled to share.  The following is an email environmental educator Matt Flower sent a few weeks ago about a group of 8th graders from Oliver Wendell Holmes, which has been visiting the Center for over ten years and is also a Rotary Partner School.


After arriving at the Center, we met a videographer sent by the Milwaukee Rotary Club to tape the kids planting the OW Holmes Sycamore tree (tentatively named by them, Mighty Tiger) in the flats along the Milwaukee River. The land stewardship team of Joel, Caitlin and Joanna were awesome and did a great job including all the kids in planting.  When we were finished, we split up into two groups and went into Riverside Park to pull garlic mustard and to hike around.  My group went over to the giant Willow Tree and had a blast climbing every limb.  Then we slowly made our way into the valley and learned about some of the wild flowers that are helped by pulling garlic mustard and ate bunches of wild onions.  I know, kids eating onions!?!?


We continued down the path to an area that has three apple and crab apple trees that are in full blossom right now.  I told the kids to have someone use their phone to take a picture while some others go under the trees and gently shake them to release a shower of petals.  They did it and loved it!  So much so, that one of the boys turned to the group as they were looking at each other lightly covered with soft white and pink petals, "What's going on?  I think I'm in love with nature!"


Can you imagine?  Then we went up to the prairie and I found a 2 1/2 foot Garter Snake that the kids touched and held.  My co-educator, Brittany, had a group that was busy eating violets and watching the Coopers Hawk perched high in an oak.  The principal made a surprise visit to us in the park and listened to the kids tell their exciting stories and show him their pictures.  This all happened within a two hour span.  Think about that experience and what an impact that simple trip to the Urban Ecology Center made in just two hours!

Magical experiences in nature like this happen every day at the Urban Ecology Center.  The Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum enlarges the area available our environmental education programs.  It also gives us access to a greater number of ecosystems native to the region.  Even though it is not yet finished, parts of the Arboretum are already the scene of learning and fun.


June: Progress Update


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


As the weather cleared in the past several weeks, work on the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum resumed in full swing.  The contractor has just about finished grading the site and covering it with rich topsoil—soon to be followed by seeding with a mix of native plants and the installation of erosion control mats made of coconut fibers.


Left: After seeding with a mix of native plant species, coconut fiber mats are installed to prevent erosion.
Middle: A burr oak is planted on top of one of the Arboretum’s mounds.
Right: Concrete is poured for the curbs of the new parking lot.


Paving on the parking lot started in May along with the installation of the footings for the grand archway entrance. In mid-May the remaining dozen trees in the Oak Savannah were planted including prairie crabapple, butternut, shagbark hickory, swamp white oak, hills oak, black oaks, tamarack, burr oak, and chinquapin oak.  Other parts of the Arboretum were recently planted with American beech, sugar maple, and downy service berry.  With the help of hundreds of volunteers this spring, 1,200 tree saplings and several thousand shrub saplings will be planted throughout the project area.


Behind the scenes, planning has been ongoing to develop a number of important pieces to the project.  The partner organizations have been developing a logo concept to represent the Arboretum and team of Urban Ecology Center staff has been working to finalize a plan for signage.  Planning is also underway for the grand opening festivities and related marketing efforts.



May: DNR Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


In May 2012, the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum project applied for a grant of $1.2 million from the Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.


Administered by the Department of Natural Resources, the Knowles-Nelson program makes funding available for conservation of wildlife habitat and access to outdoor recreation opportunities.  The Stewardship Fund was named for Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson, two of the state’s most revered conservation leaders and former governors.  The goals of conservation and recreation are achieved through acquisition of easements and land, restoration of natural habitat, and development of recreational facilities. 


Since its inception in 1989, the program has preserved more than 500,000 acres of Wisconsin land.  The preserved areas range in size from a single acre to 100 square miles.


A group representing the project including Mary McCormick, Jill Pelisek, and Dan Davis of Milwaukee Rotary, Kimberly Gleffe of River Revitalization Foundation, and Ken Leinbach of Urban Ecology Center testified before the Natural Resources Board in February.  After review by Department of Natural Resources staff, the Natural Resources Board, and the Joint Finance Committee, our grant was approved in March 2013.  The funds will be paid to the project after earthwork construction and remediation of environmental contamination are complete, in the next several months.


The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program requires a 50% match from the grant recipient. In our case, we leveraged the 4.5 acres of land donated by the late Pieter Godfrey as the match for the purchase of the new properties. 


This land purchased with Stewardship funding is comprised of two separate parcels.  The first parcel of 1.5 acres is located adjacent to the Godfrey land.  This was the site of a building that has already been demolished and is being transformed into Oak Savannah habitat.  The second piece of land is located on the west side of the Milwaukee River adjacent to greenspace being developed by the River Revitalization Foundation.  This parcel will be retained by the River Revitalization Foundation and a house on the property will be converted into office space for the organization.


April: What is an Arboretum, Anyway?


By Ken Leinbach, Executive Director, Urban Ecology Center


Ok, I’ll admit it. When Pieter Godfrey discussed the idea of converting the land he wished to donate into a unique ecosystem of trees … he and I had only a vague notion of what exactly an arboretum was. My instinct in calling it an Arboretum instead of a park was less biologic and more practical - a marketing tool. The name had the panache to attract attention and hopefully the support needed for the ambitious project of tearing down an old factory and reclaiming the worn industrial land into public green space. When the marketing plan started to work, and the Milwaukee Rotary Club and many others expressed interest in helping, it became evident that understanding the term Arboretum was important.


I have sometimes heard an Arboretum defined as a “living museum of trees”. Upon further investigation, we learned these “living museums” are as varied as the species that they embark to preserve. Arboreta (cool world in the plural – eh?) differ from natural woodlands as they represent a botanically significant intentional collection of trees. Some “living museums of trees” like that in the nation’s capital, attempt to grow individual trees from all over the world. Others, like the Arboretum at Flagstaff, focus on the native plants that thrive in the high, arid environment of the Colorado Plateau. Each Arboretum has its own unique mission and purpose. While trees are common to all, arboreta are botanical gardens for all plants as a tree cannot survive in isolation--like all life they need an ecosystem of support.


This brings us to the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. What is it exactly? Well, at first we did not know for sure, but over the past six years a very exciting vision has emerged - with the engagement of literally thousands of volunteers, experts across the state, a dedicated team on staff and numerous partner organizations


The Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum will be a 40 acre tract of urban nature uniquely managed as an outdoor classroom, research laboratory and public sanctuary free for everyone to enjoy. The National Forest Service has already dedicated this land as a Children’s Forest, meaning that the unique discovery needs of children and youth are considered in every step of design. For example, in our Arboretum there will be “Imaginature sites” scattered throughout the acreage - special places intended for children to “discover and play” be it an intentionally placed hollow log, or a tree enhanced for easy and safe climbing.


Collectively all of this land will harbor representative samples of every tree indigenous to Southeastern Wisconsin (currently there are 28 in Riverside Park, we are growing the total to 72!), and a vast array of native plants. Some of the land within the 40 acre boundary already exists as a mature forest, like that of Riverside Park. Other portions have trees, but are not currently managed with any intention. The riparian land along the East Bank Trail as well as stretches of the Oakleaf trail between Locust Street and North Avenue fall into this category.  The newly created oak savannah is yet another section of the Arboretum.  These different areas allow us to establish a diversity of plant communities representative of a number of ecosystems found in Southeastern Wisconsin.  In addition to the wonderful opportunities for outdoor education, research, and recreation this is the unique mission of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.


March: Arboretum Trail System


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


One vital component of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum is the development of trails that are sustainable and universally accessible.  This past summer, Milwaukee County repaved some of the historic trails in Riverside Park originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1893. When the Arboretum is complete there will be a network of universally accessible trails near the Urban Ecology Center that will, for the first time, allow those in a wheelchair to independently navigate the park and even the river bank! Emanating from these paved paths in either direction are gravel paths that an ambitious wheelchair user can explore.


The Arboretum is the latest step in the evolution of the area.  Ever since the North Avenue Dam was removed in 1996, the Milwaukee River Corridor from Estabrook Park to downtown has being going through a remarkable transformation. Waters that were once highly polluted and supported only a few species of fish now teem with life.  The odors and toxins that pervaded the water are thankfully but a memory.


As the fish came back, so did the people who love to catch them. Many spontaneous trails developed along the river’s edge braiding the banks as mountain bikers, hikers, nature enthusiasts and dog walkers found solace in this healing sanctuary.   Subsequently, the River Revitalization Foundation built the East Bank Trail, now a vital artery for hiking along the Milwaukee River.


Many of the spontaneous trails along the river which have been in use for years will continue to be enjoyed for years to come. Unfortunately, though, some trails, which are in high use areas or very close to the river, have become a detriment to water quality. Dirt paths that run close to the bank of the river often end up collapsing and adding excessive sediment to our waterways.


Because they were carefully planned to avoid depositng excess sediment in the river, the sustainable trails being developed as part of the Arboretum project will help to minimize negative effects on water quality while providing greater access to natural space.


Since the early days of the Urban Ecology Center, not only has the river continued to improve, but thanks to thousands of volunteers, invasive plants are being replaced with native vegetation. In some areas, especially near the Center, the resulting biodiversity is impressive. More people are using this natural asset than ever before and this is a good thing.  People who know the land love it and people who love the land protect it.


February: Creating an Oak Savanna


By Caitlin Reinartz, Urban Ecology Center Forestry Specialist



When you walk through the Kranick archway to the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum you will not enter a closed-canopy forest; rather, you will walk into an oak savanna.  What will that look like?


Within a savanna, the main players are beautiful prairie plants with deep, fibrous roots and relatively few open-grown oak trees dotted around the landscape.  This was an intentional choice of the Urban Ecology Center for a number of reasons. 


First, oak savannahs are really beautiful.  With such a high variety of prairie plants and wildflowers, savannas are very showy, and something is always blooming from the very first weeks of spring to the very last weeks of fall.  The standing dormant plants in winter with their seeds in various shades of brown, black, and rust, are also gorgeous especially after a light dusting of snow.  Fewer trees provide the opportunity for sweeping views that one would not find in a denser forest. 


For further interest, savannas are also teeming with life.  Oaks and wildflowers provide essential food and habitat for many different types of wildlife from birds and insects to deer, rabbits, foxes, hawks and wild turkeys.


Second, the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum will be used as an outdoor classroom for thousands of children throughout Milwaukee communities in generations to come, it is important to include a wide variety of plant communities for those children to play in and learn about.  Closed-canopy forest (a forest where the trees are close enough together that the leaves of one tree grow right up to the leaves of the neighboring tree, creating a “ceiling” of leaves) is already represented throughout the existing acres of Riverside Park.


Third, oak savanna is an important ecosystem for Milwaukee’s children to learn about because the Upper Midwest Forest Savannah Transition Zone (read: Wisconsin’s oak savannas) is one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems (Source:  World Wildlife Fund).  In fact, savannas used to cover 32 million acres of the upper Midwest.  As of 1985, less than 0.02% of the original oak savanna still existed, mostly due to fire suppression and conversion to farmland.  It is important to conserve this endangered ecosystem, and to show our children the former glory of Wisconsin.


Finally, as the existing soils were highly degraded and classified as contaminated, subcontractors graded the land, capped the contaminated soils, and brought in fill and new topsoil.  This new soil does not have the depth and microbiology necessary to support a closed canopy forest.  Prairie plants, with their deep and fibrous root system, are one of the best things to plant in degraded soils.  Fine roots hold the soils together to prevent erosion and reduce water run-off, and prairie species create a lot of biomass each year which eventually creates more and better soil.


January: Why Plant Natives?


By Caitlin Reinartz, Urban Ecology Center Forestry Specialist


Within the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, the Urban Ecology Center will plant only those plants that are native to Southeastern Wisconsin, and will work to eliminate those species that are non-native or invasive.  Why only natives? 


Top: Bloodroot   Bottom: Swamp Milkweed Top: Michigan Lilly   Bottom: Trilliums

Reason #1:  The Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum will be used to teach generations of children about the natural world.  Lady Bird Johnson, first lady and champion of Texas native plants, once said that native plants “give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.”  When children and adults visit the Arboretum, we want them to get a sense of Wisconsin.  Native plants within the Arboretum will help foster a connection between urban youth and our plant communities.  By spending time in a real Wisconsin ecosystem, children will be able to discover the natural beauty all around them.


Reason #2:  Native Wisconsin plants have evolved for millions of years to be well adapted to the climate, weather, and soils that exist here, thereby needing less human intervention once established.  Native plants require less watering, which conserves water and lowers maintenance costs.  Native plants also require little or no fertilization or pesticide application, which means less contamination of our water supply.  Most native plants have developed resistances to insects and diseases common to our area, and will remain healthy without our help.  As Lady Bird Johnson said when founding her Wildflower Center, “you just have a better chance if you’re using natives and wild things. They’re easier to grow if the Lord put them there in the first place; and they’re hardy and can survive.”


Reason #3:  Native plants sustain native wildlife with appropriate food and shelter having evolved together for millions many insect species (which are the foundation of the wildlife food web) only feed on native plants.  The loss of native plant  communities to farming and urbanization has meant that our our native creatures have fewer places to grow and thrive. Enhancing the native plant culture not preserves existing animal habitat, but it will create an expanded and richer habitat that can support a larger and more diverse wildlife population.  And more wildlife means more bird watching, and more magical moments when a child sees a fox or a hawk or a great blue heron!


If you would like to read more on the subject of the importance of using native plants in natural areas and even our backyards, read this wonderful, very informative, and easy-to-read book: Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doulglas W. Tallamy (published by Timber Press).



December: Progress Update


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


The dramatic transformation of the Arboretum site continues.  The demolished building has completely disappeared and much of the concrete that it was made of has been crushed and recycled for use as base for the paths and parking lot.  The majority of rough grading is finished.  Over half of the site has been covered with the warning barrier and clean fill material.  These measures are necessary to deal with contamination present on site and will help ensure that it stays safely buried.  As a result, the mounds and berms have rapidly taken shape and the largest trees were planted just after Thanksgiving.


An aerial photo of the Arboretum site taken in October shows the grading and berms taking shape.


November: Action Teams


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


Two action teams are complementing the work of the partner organizations on the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum –on team focuses on design elements of the Arboretum and other comes together to insure completion of the fundraising. 


These committees, made up of a mix of Rotary members and community volunteers working with Urban Ecology Center staff, meet bi-weekly.  They first came together over a year ago, as a way to broaden collaboration and leverage talents and expertise. 

The Design Team at work.   The design team at work.


The Design action team spearheads a number of components of the Arboretum project.  Rotarians who volunteered to serve on this committee are Danni Gendelman, Keith Anderson and Penny Cruse. Members of the committee are engaged in working on crafting magical spots within the Arboretum, places receiving a little extra attention to make them more attractive for imaginative nature-based play and exploration.  For example:

  • Three learning circles will also be created as areas designed for the Urban Ecology Center’s environmental educators to use with classes. 
  • A volunteer from Green Man Tree and Landscape Services in Oak Creek will be providing the Arboretum with beautiful benches with a natural feel. 
  • A smaller group of volunteers has been working on ideas to beautify the stretch of North Avenue between the Milwaukee River and the Oak Leaf Trail.  The options of planting trees are limited in this area because of the high concentration of buried utility and overhead power lines.  This team has been formulating a concept for tying this connection into the Arboretum –and the concept is quickly coming together.

The Fundraising committee has been hard at work raising the dollars to make the ambitious vision of the Arboretum a reality, augmenting the Urban Ecology Center’s development department.  Members of the group have assisted with identifying prospects, formulating strategies, arranging and hosting tours and drafting proposals for submission to a number of foundations.  Because of the hard work of this group, we are closing in on our fundraising goal.


October: Remediation within the Arboretum


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


We often say that in developing the Rotary Centennial Arboretum we are “converting old industrial land along the revitalized Milwaukee River into a natural jewel for the city”. But what does it take to do that?


First, we must deal with environmental contamination present in the soil, the residue of the historical industrial uses of this land.


As part of the due diligence process, we hired environmental engineers (Sigma) to conduct a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, which investigates the historical uses of a property to discern whether any contamination is likely. The engineers verified that the land had been occupied by a manufacturing facility of the National Brake and Electric Co. and a warehouse used by various entities. This property was also used by the North Western Wrecking Co. as an alleged construction-related landfill.


Because past uses of a property are associated with possible environmental contamination, a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment was done, which includes testing of soil and groundwater at a number of locations and depths throughout a property to identify any hazardous substances that may be present. The Phase II assessment found high levels of lead and arsenic, in addition to several other potentially hazardous compounds. While these materials do pose a danger, they do not contaminate the ground water on site and are only dangerous if ingested.


Working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the environmental engineers formulated a Remediation Action Plan calling for a cap of 24 inches of clean material over the contaminated soil. The contractor we have hired to do the earthwork is importing the clean material from off site. In addition, a warning barrier will be placed between the contaminated and clean material. This barrier serves as a notification if the cap is punctured.


These measures will ensure that the community is insulated from the hazardous materials on site, as well as providing fertile soil necessary for the Arboretum’s plants to thrive for decades to come. This transformation of polluted post-industrial land into vibrant habitat is what makes the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum such a compelling vision.


September: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator


One of the largest single sources of financial support for the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum is a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).


In September of 2010, the Urban Ecology Center was awarded $953,450 of GLRI funds to work within the Milwaukee River Estuary, which includes the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. The funds will be used to:

  • Improve the fish and wildlife habitat
  • Grow the fish and wildlife population
  • Enhance the aesthetics of the river corridor


In order to achieve these goals, the Urban Ecology Center land stewardship team is increasing the genetic diversity of plant life within the park, in hopes that existing wildlife will continue to flourish there and that populations will rise in response to a wider variety of forage opportunities. The team is also working within the project area to remove invasive species and to stop the inflow of new invasive species. The Arboretum project area is located along the last un-dammed stretch of the Milwaukee River that flows through natural, vegetated land before becoming canalized and flowing into Lake Michigan, making our project area very important for the health of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes as a whole.


On August 10, the Urban Ecology Center hosted the first leg of a tour of GLRI funded projects in the Milwaukee area. The event was organized by the Gathering Waters Conservancy, a Madison based organization that that supports land trusts in preserving land throughout Wisconsin. As a part of the event, the Urban Ecology Center’s executive director Ken Leinbach led attendees on a hike along the river, highlighting how the Arboretum project leverages federal GLRI funding for greater impact by improving access to revitalized habitats. Other stops of the tour included River Revitalization Foundation’s Wheelhouse Park and a number of projects of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.



Rotarian John Clancy with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

In addition, the Urban Ecology Center hosted Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on August 15. Secretary Salazar was in Milwaukee to discuss President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative and the administration’s conservation accomplishments. This stakeholder meeting also featured discussion of the Lake Michigan Water Trail and Ice Age Trail, the two projects of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative in Wisconsin, as well as the newly announced Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge near the Wisconsin-Illinois border.


August: Our Arboretum Partners


By Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Coordinator



Ken Leinbach of the UEC and the late Pieter Godfrey sign the agreement for the Arboretum.

The gift of $400,000 pledged by Rotarians in 2008 to create the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum was the catalyst that brought together an impressive array of partner organizations needed to bring the project to fruition. The diverse mix and unique expertise of the partners is a testament to the broad appeal of the project, which has energized people and groups across all sectors of the community.


Urban Ecology Center: The Urban Ecology Center, the lead partner, provides year-round educational programs for tens of thousands of kids, families and adults. The Center also works to increase the quality of natural habitat in the parks in which it works, replacing invasive species with native species, creating more diverse plant and animal communities. The Center functions as the project manager for the Arboretum, playing a central role in design, implementation, and fundraising. Upon completion, the Urban Ecology Center will be responsible for continued maintenance of the Arboretum, and will utilize the Arboretum as an outdoor classroom for thousands of Milwaukee children and youth for generations to come.


River Revitalization Foundation: Founded jointly in 1991 by Milwaukee Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, River Revitalization Foundation (RRF) works to establish public access, walkways, recreation and education along the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers. As a land trust, RRF’s role in the Arboretum project is to facilitate the land transfers and provide expertise on conservation, restoration, and assist with fundraising when appropriate. RRF will own the land during construction.


Godfrey LLC: Pieter Godfrey was an architect and expert in historic preservation, in addition to being one of the driving forces behind conservation efforts along the Milwaukee River. His business sells salvaged building materials. Pieter’s donation of 4.5 acres of land and vision for an urban arboretum provided much of the impetus for the project. With his unfortunate passing in June of 2011 the project lost one of its leaders, but Pieter’s estate is committed to honoring his intentions.


Milwaukee Urban Rivers Foundation: Milwaukee Urban Rivers Foundation (MURF), set up by Pieter Godfrey, worked with RRF to facilitate the purchase of a key parcel of land for the Arboretum adjacent to Pieter’s donated parcel.


Milwaukee County Parks Department: All of the land transfers in the project will ultimately become property of Milwaukee County. The Parks Department provides assistance for the transfer of land to County ownership. Their expertise has also been important in key design elements of the Arboretum.


In addition to these formal partners, a number of other groups have also been engaged including: Environmental Protection Agency, through a large Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which has assisted with remediation of environmental contamination; City of Milwaukee, with land use expertise; and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District which has supported our green parking areas, among other things.


The project has captured the imagination of many, eliciting support from local churches, neighborhood groups, businesses, schools and universities. Nationally the project has secured over $1 million in support form both private foundations and the federal government.


Rotarians should be proud of their early catalytic investment in this project.


July: How it All Began


By Liz Keuler


With our centennial year beginning soon and the opening of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum scheduled for next year, we are “resting” the Spotlight on Service Award to shine the spotlight on the Arboretum. Each month we’ll use this space to tell a piece of the Arboretum story – beginning this month with a refresher on how the project was chosen.


In 2007, during Jim Barry’s presidency, the Board of Directors put out the call to club members to identify potential Centennial projects as a way to honor RCM’s legacy of initiating enduring projects in the community. Some key criteria included: name recognition opportunity for Rotary and good community visibility; high expected buy-in by club members; multiple opportunities to engage Rotarians in different ways; location in neighborhoods already supported by RCM; high likelihood that the project would be completed as proposed; and a sustainable financial model for continued success.


Rotarians submitted ten outstanding project proposals, which a selection committee narrowed to three.


Rotarians backing each of the three projects made short presentations to the club in April of 2008. Members were then asked to complete a survey to determine which project had the broadest support.


In June 2008, the results were announced: RCM would pledge $400,000 toward the creation of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. The project was attractive in part because of its strong partners – the Urban Ecology Center, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Urban River Foundation, Milwaukee City & County, among others. But even more, Rotarians were inspired by a vision of a living forest classroom that would give back to the community for many generations to come.



Students at an "outdoor classroom" at the Urban Ecology Center.

The Arboretum is a natural fit with RCM’s history of dedication to education and the environment. In fact, in 1942 RCM sent Milwaukee youngsters to attend summer camp in Mellen, Wisconsin for what was often their first getaway to the North Woods. Now more than ever, Milwaukee kids may live only a few blocks or miles from the lake, the river or a green place, but have no direct experience with nature. The Arboretum will expand the outdoor classroom space at the Urban Ecology Center by 300%, allowing even more children receive the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical benefits of connection to nature.


Once the project was chosen, RCM leadership set to work to raise $400,000. The club launched a pledge campaign in the fall of 2009. In just a few short weeks, about half of our members pledged a total of $438,000, surpassing RCM’s stated goal. The Past Presidents threw their full support behind the project, pledging a total of over $200,000.


Rotary is more than a donor for this project; Rotary is a partner committed to opening the Arboretum on September 29, 2013. Many Rotarians have worked tirelessly on project planning, budgeting, fund raising, developing essential legal agreements, and site design. We thank our partners and each Rotarian for their excellent work and service.