UW-Madison: Arboretum gains landmark status

MADISON – The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. The designation is based on the Arboretum’s pioneering work in restoration ecology, its place in the history of conservation, and its commitment to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.

The UW-Madison Arboretum was established in the 1930s as an outdoor laboratory to study how to repair damaged and degraded landscapes. Its function, according to Leopold in his 1934 dedication speech, was to be “a reconstructed sample of old Wisconsin, to serve as a benchmark, a starting point, in the long and laborious job of building a permanent and mutually beneficial relationship” between people and the landscape.

Early experiments and research generated a better understanding of local ecosystems, contributed to the development of effective restoration and management practices, and helped define the field of ecological restoration.

The National Historic Landmark program designates places that represent an outstanding aspect of American history and culture. To be recognized as a National Landmark, a site must go through a rigorous nomination process. Then it must be evaluated by the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmark Survey, reviewed by the National Park System Advisory Board, and recommended to the secretary of the interior, who makes the final decision. The Arboretum was listed in January 2021.

The Arboretum’s landmark designation is based on a “period of national significance” that begins in 1933 with the first forest plantings. Notable experiments sought to understand and restore prairie, savanna and marsh communities; study fire ecology and test the use of prescribed fire; and implement an adaptive approach to land management, incorporating built-in experiments designed to inform practice. This period ends in 1966 with the retirement of G. William Longenecker, executive director from 1933-66, and the death of Henry Greene, instructor in the UW-Madison botany department and collection curator in what is now the Wisconsin State Herbarium.