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New Arboretum Helps Milwaukeeans Branch Out into Nature

After planning for several years, the 40-acre Rotary Centennial Arboretum opens along the Milwaukee River north of downtown this weekend.

The project is on land that was part of Milwaukee's heavily industrial past.  

"We have pictures from the early '40s and the land was nothing but huge industrial buildings, industrial land and smokestacks," says Ken Leinbach, director of the Urban Ecology Center. "We’ve co-created this incredible natural space out of this brownfield industrial land and that’s something special."

The arboretum represents an expansion of the Urban Ecology Center, which will use the space for educational purposes.  But it also is designated as a so-called Children's Forest by the U.S. Forest Service.

"What a children’s forest is is an outdoor space that’s focused on getting children and families out in to the outdoors, more specifically to try new outdoor recreation opportunities, to learn about nature and to get the youth involved in the management of that space," says Jean Claassen, the coordinator for the Forest Service's Urban Connections program in Milwaukee.

As its name suggests, the arboretum was sponsored by Milwaukee's Rotary Club to celebrate its 100th anniversary, says executive director Mary McCorrmick.

"We really wanted to give an important gift to the community," she says.

And special it is, says the Urban Ecology Center's Leinbach, noting this patch of natural space is only a mile and a half from the city's downtown.

"When we were hearing politicians talking about jobs, well, this actually is about job retention because this is a place where people want to be," he says, "because there’s nearby nature that they can get sustained both physically, spiritually, emotionally and in every other way."

The Rotary Centennial Arboretum opens to the public from 10 AM to 4 PM this Saturday, which is also National Public Lands Day.

Check out the Rotary's video on the arboretum below.