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Arboretum Spotlight: A System of Trails

Written by Aaron Zeleske
    Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Arboretum Spotlight: A System of Trails

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 Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum will open on September 28th, 2013. Each month, Aaron Zeleske, Arboretum Project Coordinator, provides an update to tell a piece of the Arboretum story.  These updates can also be found on the Rotary Club of Milwaukee website.


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.

Aaron Zeleske

Aaron Zeleske

Aaron is the Arboretum Project Coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center where he works to keep all the parts of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum project moving. His journey to try to understand the world has taken him from Wisconsin to the east coast, the Marshall Islands, Chicago, and back to Wisconsin. Two little known facts about Aaron are that he is both a twin and a potter. He enjoys bicycling, gardening, reading, and cooking delicious meals to share.

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