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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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February 2006

Wisconsin Traveler

Visit an arboretum and enjoy the beauty of trees in winter.

Desolate indeed would be our dwellings were their environs entirely treeless. – Increase Lapham, 1856

© Staber Reese

Your TRAVELER can't be certain, but it's likely Wisconsin's premier natural scientist spoke those words after a journey to North Dakota. Trees enliven the landscape, particularly in winter, when their leafless silhouettes etch intricate patterns on darkening skies.

Make a point of visiting a Wisconsin arboretum now – while the water is hard and chill winds bite deep – and you will distinguish yourself as a true contrarian. Leave the blooming magnolias for the sweating herds of frail summer folk. You, winter tree seeker – hardy, stalwart, intrepid – will enjoy unparalleled privacy in a public space as you contemplate the shape, structure and utter majesty of a Wisconsin tree specimen on a brisk 10F afternoon. Bring along a sketch pad and pencil if inspiration strikes, and remember, many trees are easier to identify without leaves.

MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, Poynette. Marvel at the more than 100 species of trees growing on the 280-acre property that formerly was the State Game Farm. Some state-record size trees thrive here, including an amur maple, bigleaf linden and Black Hills spruce. Allow time to visit MacKenzie's Conservation Museum and the live native Wisconsin wildlife exhibit featuring deer, bison, wolf, eagle, mountain lion, lynx and turkey. The grounds are open year-round; winter hours for the museum and exhibits (November 1-April 30) are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays only. Visit MacKenzie Environmental Education Center.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum, Madison. In 1853, Increase Lapham first proposed the state's institutes of higher education preserve "at least one good specimen of each tree and shrub that grows naturally in Wisconsin." Three-quarters of a century later, the Board of Regents heeded Lapham's distant call and established the UW Arboretum. Today the 1,260-acre property is a living laboratory for ecological restoration. Look for magnificent bur oaks in the Wingra Oak Savanna and 150-year old white oaks in Noe Woods. See University of Wisconsin Arboretum.

Boerner Botanical Gardens, Milwaukee. Boerner's 1,000-plus acre arboretum spans Whitnall Park and stretches along the Root River Parkway. Trees and shrubs are arranged in groves according to plant family. Engraved plaques indicate specimens of noteworthy size and age; maps help visitors locate tree collections. Visit Boerner Botanical Gardens for details.

The Trees at Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay. Olmstead Brothers, a firm run by the son and stepson of Frederick Law Olmstead, the famed landscape architect of New York's Central Park, designed the graceful, picturesque grounds of the observatory situated 190 feet above the shores of Lake Geneva. The 77 acres of broad lawns surrounding the telescope's dome feature handsome mature hardwoods, including beeches, chestnuts and ginkgos. Visit soon – the University of Chicago, which owns and operates the observatory, has put the property up for sale. See Yerkes Observatory for details.

Want to explore more? Read Every Root an Anchor: Wisconsin's Famous and Historic Trees by R. Bruce Allison, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's online at Every Root an Anchor. Order softcover copies for $21.95 from Wisconsin Historical Society.