Men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked from 1934 to 1941 on the Arboretum of University of Wisconsin Madison, providing the majority of the labor needed to establish the ecological communities that make up the Arboretum. This was accomplished by excavating and moving land to return farmland to it’s natural condition as well as reintroducing native plants.
Between 1900-1920 there were many civic leaders of the fast-growing city of Madison, Wisconsin interested in returning the countryside to it’s natural glory. These leaders recognized the importance of the conservation of open spaces for the citizens of the city. To ensure the protection of natural lands, community leader John Nolen donated great sections of farmland. In addition to this donation, the university along with Joseph W. Jackson acquired land in the surrounding area at very low cost during the Great Depression.
In Aldo Leopold’s dedication of the UW-Madison Arboretum on June 17th, 1934 he said “An arboretum is ordinarily a place where the serious-minded citizen can learn, by looking at them, the difference between a white and a black spruce, or see in person a Russian olive, a tamarisk, or an Arizona cypress. That is, it is a collection of trees.” From there the Arboretum expanded to include extensive and unmolested prairies and savannas, wetlands, a world famous lilac collection, the most extensive horticultural collection in the state, educational tours, science and nature based classes, and an expansive variety of volunteer opportunities.
Throughout the years the Arboretum has persevered despite urban expansion and development, and stands as a pioneer in the management and restoration of natural ecological communities. The creation of this Arboretum was centered around the brand new concept of ecological restoration, the process of returning an ecosystem or piece of landscape to a previous, more pristine, condition.
Based on the vision of Leopold and the labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Arboretum stands as a testimony to the benefits of the restoration of damaged landscapes. At the 50 year anniversary of the Arboretum, Peter Shaw Ashton the director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum said, “It is our responsibility to bring to our children, as a right, a sense of wonder at the beauty of the natural world, and an intolerance for the shabbiness and ugliness of much of the world that we are creating.”