Arboretum Spotlight: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Written by Aaron Zeleske
    Monday, 10 September 2012
Arboretum Spotlight: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

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).

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.


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 10th 2012, 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.

In addition, the Urban Ecology Center hosted Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on August 15th 2012. 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.

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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