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The UW’s Utopia

The UW Arboretum provides visitors of all ages with a place to make memories, offering educational, recreational, and — most of all — scenic activities year-round.

Stephanie Haws '15
June 17, 2019
Participants take photos of bees during a bumble bee monitoring workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum on July 6, 2017. The workshop provided instruction on how to photographically document bumble bees for survey and monitoring use. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Some UW–Madison graduates may recall flocking to the UW Arboretum, located southwest of campus, to admire the spring blooms while a student or posing there for photo ops while donning a cap and gown. With commencement, Mother’s Day, and high school proms, spring is the busiest time of year for the space.

“[The blooms are] like a rite of spring. [It’s] really tied into a lot of people’s family histories … coming out to smell the lilacs or to see the magnolias,” says Mark Wegener ’94, MS’01, the Arboretum’s assistant director and database administrator.

“It goes generations; it can be a memory thing,” adds Susan Day, the Arboretum’s communications coordinator. “I get emails from people weeks in advance saying, ‘When are the lilacs going to bloom?’ … People will travel from outside of Dane County, and sometimes out of state, to come see the lilacs.”

But the memories don’t stop there, as the Arboretum offers up views and activities year-round.

In the summer, the Arboretum is a hotspot for runners. It’s part of a popular 10k loop that many take when training, and it offers more than 17 miles of trails, Wegener says. The main, paved road also is a common path for bicycling commuters. Families — or those who prefer not to travel by pedal or foot — often drive in to tour the Visitor Center and Longenecker Horticultural Gardens to enjoy both the weather and the sights.

And in fall, the sights are nothing short of colorful. Another popular time for the Arboretum, fall attracts many visitors who come to view the autumn leaves. The space also hosts a walking tour in fall that features Madison’s Lost City, an event that attracts about 100 people each year.

Once snow covers the Arboretum floor, visitors are often seen cross-country skiing or hiking, and snowshoeing has been growing in popularity. Although traffic is generally slower in the winter months, the Arboretum’s New Year’s Eve night walk sees some of the highest attendance each year.

Throughout the year, the Arboretum supports and hosts educational events for learners and researchers. It acts as a classroom space for local students (including those at UW–Madison) and as an area for undergraduate and graduate research, and it offers its own programming. Among the programs are an annual 10-week lecture series featuring UW–Madison faculty and other experts, and a community event — Madison Reads Leopold — comprising an all-day read-aloud of the work of the late UW professor Aldo Leopold ’36.

The Arboretum’s programming also caters to kids — family programs are held throughout the year and provide children with opportunities to walk through the space or partake in indoor activities.

“That gives people an opportunity to get their kids outside, but also do some fun stuff inside that’s not at home,” Day says.

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