Here’s a new place to check out: the Lawrence Rotary Arboretum, 5100 W. 27th St. Although the address might throw you, the Arboretum is next to the Clinton Lake Softball Complex and Youth Sports Complex, near the intersection of Wakarusa Drive and the K-10 bypass.
Besides trees (yes, they are still young, but growing), the park has waterfalls leading into a large pond, scenic views of native and adapted wildflowers, a xeriscape garden, shelters and a pergola perfect for picnicking, and a smooth concrete path to stroll with the family.
Soon, the Arboretum will also have an interactive nature trail to add fun for kids of all ages.
The new path, which will likely be called The Bluebird Nature Trail, is planned to wrap around the large pond and then loop through the marshy area northwest of the pond. The trail intersects with the main path in several locations but offers a chance to get closer to the plants and wildlife that call the Arboretum home.
The idea for the nature trail originated with the new member group for the Lawrence Rotary Club. The class was looking for a project to work on together and wanted to do something that involved the Arboretum and children.
This is just one project that will be completed by Lawrence Rotarians at the Arboretum this year. The place itself was made possible by the collaboration of all three Lawrence Rotary clubs, and by the great vision of the late George Woodyard. Since the Arboretum’s establishment in 2005, the city of Lawrence and representatives from the three Rotary clubs have worked together for continued improvement.
Back to the trail. To learn more, I met with Ann Frame Hertzog, who chairs the new member group.
“We have this nice, groomed area out here, and we want to create something a little more wild,” Hertzog says. “We want to get kids right up close with nature and make it interactive.”
When complete, the trail will include educational information about trees along the way, birds that trailwalkers might see, and other tidbits about plants and wildlife.
“It will mostly be a mowed path, but with taller grass on the sides of the trail,” Hertzog says. “Down on the south end, we’ll put in a low bridge that kind of zigzags through the marshy area.”
The proposed name ties in with the multitude of bluebirds in the park. The birds are there presumably thanks to bluebird houses that are installed and maintained by another local community group.
Hertzog says her committee is working closely with Kansas University students who are members of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Max McGraw, Miles McGonigle, and Austin McDonald have been especially helpful in lending their expertise to the project.
More projects are on the horizon, too. Dave Ambler, who chairs the three-club committee that works with the city, says Rotarians want to build restrooms and a large picnic pavilion in the future. These are large-ticket items, so they are dependent on the groups’ fundraising efforts. In the meantime, Rotary clubs continue to work with the city each year to schedule tree plantings, flower planting days and other work and maintenance days at the Arboretum.
“After the initial opening, we realized that an Arboretum is a dynamic garden that needs continual loving care. So we have added additional items to the Arboretum such as the new entrance sign, a program platform, permanent tree markers, etc.” Ambler says. “And then George and Eleanor Woodyard gave the lovely gazebo-garden at the edge of one of the two big ponds as a gift to Lawrence in celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary last June. Fortunately, it was all completed prior to his death last September.”
Ambler, like many others I have spoken to, notes that the Arboretum is a hidden jewel of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department. It is that, I believe, but as the trees and amenities continue to grow, I believe the Arboretum’s popularity will also expand.
For now, I walk the smooth concrete path and enjoy the Arboretum’s serenity. I pass a mother with a stroller and toddler in tow, and stop to watch a group of children playing hopscotch as their parents picnic in the gazebo. A heron alights on the pond and I daydream about watching tadpoles from the new bridge along the Bluebird Nature Trail.
—Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058.