Future Leaders Thrive in Natural Classrooms of Cofrin Arboretum

Since the Cofrin Memorial Arboretum opening in the mid-1970s, thousands of students have had the opportunity to trade four walls for a forest, and pencils for open prairies.

“At UW-Green Bay, we are so lucky to have this amazing resource so close to us. Being able to simply walk from an indoor classroom to the outdoor classroom in the arboretum is extremely convenient, not to mention that your resource for learning is always around you when you’re on campus,” said Norah Swenson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2021 and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in environmental science and policy.

Dedication for the new bridges in UW-Green Bay's Cofrin Arboretum was held in May. On behalf of the David and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund, Ann Engelhard, Vice President of Donor Services & Gift Planning at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region (Appleton) attended and helped with finishing touches of the project along side Chancellor Michael Alexander and Center for Biodiversity Director Bob Howe.
Dedication for the new bridges in UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin Arboretum was held in May. On behalf of the David and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund, Ann Engelhard, Vice President of Donor Services & Gift Planning at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region (Appleton) attended and helped with finishing touches of the project along side Chancellor Michael Alexander and Center for Biodiversity Director Bob Howe.

The Cofrin Memorial Arboretum forms a natural boundary of 290 acres encircling the UW-Green Bay campus and providing valuable habitat and ecosystem services as well as access for research, field trips, wildlife viewing and recreation. In 1975, an endowment from the the children of John Cofrin and and grandchildren of Austin Cofrin, allowed the university to develop a system of trails, plantings, purchase additional property and improve the arboretum’s botanical offerings.

Bob Howe, UW-Green Bay’s chair of biology and director of the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, who is retiring in June 2022, said many classes beyond science courses utilize the arboretum.

“We’ve had photography classes, poetry classes, art classes and more,” he said. “It’s great to just walk outside and have the area alive with life where you can demonstrate something to students or they can see what they’ve learned in the classroom come to life. It’s truly an outdoor classroom.”

The arboretum is constantly changing, Howe said. When he first started, there were more grasslands, but over time, trees naturally filled in. Ponds and trails have also been added. Improvements continue today, he said.

The arboretum’s bridges were recently replaced thanks to funding from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

“This project resonates with others supported by the fund, including building a bridge for walkers, runners and bikers over the Fox River connecting Little Chute to Kaukauna,” said Martha Ahrendt, a donor services manager with the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. “The Nelsons were interested in helping people experience nature, get down to the water and enjoy being outside.”

Howe said the bridges create a better experience for hikers, bikers and runners. “Bridges increase student access — they can now easily get into more parts of the arboretum,” he said. “We’re also working with university communications to get new signage and a new map. We’re very excited by that and hope to complete it this summer.”

All students can enjoy the arboretum even if they never have a class there, Swenson said.

“My favorite part of the arboretum is its benefit to not only students’ education, but their well-being,” she said.  “I have spent many afternoons walking through the arboretum with friends and I can’t think of a better way to destress from classes and the life of a student than that.”

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