Most Sunday afternoons at 1:00 PM the University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum offers a free nature walk. Visitors who may not be familiar with the natural history of Southern Wisconsin can learn the basics of environmental science by walking the grounds of a leading facility dedicated to the research and preservation of the world’s ecological systems.
Formally dedicated in 1934 this forest preserve and wildlife refuge stands in the heart of the state capital surrounded by an urban metroplex of 370,000 residents and 170,000 acres of outlying farmland. Within the Yahara River Watershed the Arboretum is a thriving ecosystem that is the natural habitat of countless native plant and animal species. Restored to much of its original condition before European colonization this area offers opportunities for recreation as well as research into the conservation of natural systems. Balancing the priorities of a modern American city and environmental protection the Arboretum is an excellent example of land management for local residents to enjoy and explore.
Created under the direction of the great naturalist Aldo Leopold the Arboretum offers more than 1,200 acres of restored prairie and forests. A system of well-marked trails (almost 20 miles) allows visitors to experience a wide variety of plants, trees, birds and small mammals in a setting much like that which existed thousands of years ago. Lead by knowledgable guides like volunteer naturalist Jim FitzGibbon a walk through the Arboretum can be very informative as well as inspiring.
“It helps people get back to nature, FitzGibbon said, “And gives them an idea of what Wisconsin is supposed look like.”
Named after John T. Curtis, a UW environmental scientist, Curtis Prairie is the oldest ecologically restored prairie in the world. A prairie is land that is mostly grass and low-lying shrubs with fewer than one tree per acre. A walk through the UW Arboretum in late spring reveals many different species of flowering wild plants that are in bloom and beautiful too see. Large stands of oak, maple and pine trees that surround the prairie create a unique ecosystem that illustrates different examples of the Wisconsin landscape before it was developed for agriculture and the densely populated neighborhoods we see today.
Efforts to bring areas of land back to their original condition provide those of us who live in cities an alternative natural environment to balance our lives surrounded by so much asphalt, concrete, glass and steel. The Arboretum provides a sustainable model for how cities and nature can coexist for the benefit of both the land and the people who live nearby.
For more information on the UW Madison Arboretum visit : https://arboretum.wisc.edu/visit/