History of the Arboretum

The location of the UW-Green Bay campus was chosen in part because of its natural beauty. Although the land was largely agricultural prior to construction of the university in 1969, the site included the wooded bay shore, Mahon Creek and surrounding forest, and the Niagara Escarpment. Even the open farm land was seen as having potential for enhancement with appropriate plantings. A primary objective for the development of the University was the preservation and enhancement of the beauty of the site's natural conditions in ways that would benefit the entire community.

Northeastern Wisconsin is part of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Ecological Province (Bailey 1995), a 147,000 square mile area that extends from New England to north-central Minnesota. The entire region was covered by glaciers during parts of the Pleistocene Epoch (~ 1.8 million – 8,000 years before present), and glacial landforms are prominent throughout. Most of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province was covered by transitional forest of northern hardwoods (sugar maple, American beech, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, white pine) prior to European settlement in the 1800's. The area occupied by the UW-Green Bay campus today, however, was covered mainly by oak forest, indicating a drier and more disturbance-prone local environment.

University of Wisconsin Green Bay Chancellor Edward Weidner shows the plan to develop the campus arboretum in December 1975. G. Douglass Cofrin is at the far right. Others in the photo include (left to right) Chancellor Weidner, Doug's brother Peter Cofrin, and sister Patricia Cofrin Shepard, along with Patricia's husband Charles Shepard and their daughter Natasha.

In 1971, founding Chancellor Edward Weidner appointed a faculty and staff committee to develop a long-range campus plan with this goal in mind. In December of the same year the committee recommended the development of a park-like arboretum and trail system around the periphery of campus. Chancellor Weidner commented in 1972: "We are advancing these proposals now with a real sense of urgency. Although much of the area covered by the proposal is now undeveloped, it will not long remain so. It is only reasonable to expect substantial development throughout the northeastern section of the city during the next ten to twenty years. The university itself will act as a major spur to such development, as will construction of the belt highway system already planned for the Green Bay area. The open fields of today will become the housing plats and shopping centers of tomorrow. Green Bay has long prided itself on its park system. The wise decision to leave open areas of varying sizes for recreational uses throughout the city has contributed greatly to the pleasure of living here. What we are proposing is merely an extension of the philosophy that has already produced such great benefits to the residents of this area." It was such sentiments that contributed to UW Green Bay's reputation as "Survival U", where academics focused on social and environmental improvement, and learning to live on the earth without destroying it. In 1975 the children of John Cofrin chose to honor him and their grandfather, Austin Cofrin, through an endowment that allowed the university to develop a system of trails, plantings, purchase additional property, and to continue to improve the botanical offerings of the arboretum, including the Northern Barrens and other plantings, as well as provide research opportunities for students and faculty at UW-Green Bay. At the time their generous gift was made, the donation from the Cofrin children was the largest donation ever given to a University of Wisconsin institution outside of the Madison campus.