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Environment

Tree Park Builds New Education Center

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Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum

An arboretum in southeastern South Dakota has a new space for educating people about the area’s trees. Supporters of the outdoor museum say the latest addition benefits people who want to learn about the environment.

The Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum sits on the eastern fringe of Sioux Falls. For people who aren’t particularly outdoorsy, an arboretum is basically an educational tree park.

Chuck Gullickson is president of the board of directors at the Wegner Arboretum Society. He says the location’s landscape offers a natural foundation for the tree park.

"The significance of diversity in trees, but not just trees. Diversity among other plants and gardens, the insects, the birds, the other animals that are part of the ecosystem," Gullickson says. "So I think one of the things that this arboretum will demonstrate is the value of diversity in nature."

Gullickson says the trees exist so people can enjoy the environment, but the acreage of trees also provides a place for learning.

"The arboretum is more than just looking pretty or looking good or feeling good; it has a mission," Gullickson says. "And permeating our mission is education."

Gullickson says that is advancing thanks to the Mabel & Judy Jasper Educational Center. The two-story building is built in the shape of an 1880s schoolhouse. Wegner Arboretum executive director Lori Kiesow says the building features an historic classroom and space for seminars.

"We have a class coming up here in a couple of weeks. We hope to have about 35 people that will start in the classroom here where we’ll have a learning experience, and then we’ll go outside and hike through the property," Kiesow says.

Kiesow says students young and old can learn about trees at the arboretum.

"Not necessarily just young students, older students as well. We are also working with a local master gardener group, SDSU extension, and another non-profit called Groundworks, that creates teaching gardens for the community."

Kiesow says the building also serves as a meeting place and event space.

Judy Jasper donated the money for a new education center; it acknowledges her decades teaching and her mother’s 50-year-long career in education.

For more information, visit the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum & East Sioux Falls Historic Site website.