Nine miles of footpaths and 9.7 miles of service lanes wind through the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Hikers, skiers, naturalists, families, scientists and others all count on the trails to lead them into Madison’s natural laboratory.
For the family of late Professor Emeritus Converse “Connie” Blanchard (’48 MS L&S, ’50 PhD L&S), those trails represent hard work, good memories and a chance to make the Arboretum nicer for visitors. Blanchard’s widow, Professor Emerita June Weisberger Blanchard, established a fund to buy materials for trail repair. She, Blanchard’s children – Margy Blanchard, Beth Schaffer, Jean Patt and Brian Blanchard – and grandchildren have adopted part of a Curtis Prairie trail in his honor, spending work days laying landscape fabric and spreading gravel to keep it passable.
“When Connie died, we wanted to do something that was very appropriate for our memory of him,” June Blanchard said. The Arboretum was a natural choice, and the family loved the idea of combining a gift with some sweat equity.
“It’s quite an event,” said daughter Margy Blanchard (’75 BSE EDU, ’88 MS L&S, ’98 EMBA BUS) of the work days the family has spent at the Arboretum. Acknowledging difficulty of hauling gravel, Blanchard added, “The teen-age boys and their friends are key.”
Margy Blanchard called her father a remarkable person and proud Madison resident. A pair of running shoes that didn’t fit her brother, who was on the high school cross-country team, gave her dad a reason to start running, Margy Blanchard said. He ran marathons, and he often ran through the Arboretum, where he later volunteered as a ranger. When Connie Blanchard retired in 1991, he began taking science experiments to third-graders, his daughter said. He visited about 1,600 classrooms and published a book of nine experiments for children.
Connie Blanchard would hate a big memorial, Margy Blanchard said, adding the family is committed to helping maintain the Curtis Prairie trail in his honor for the long haul.
With more than 18 miles of footpaths and service lanes, many of them south of the beltline in the Grady Tract, to maintain, the Arboretum’s field staff cannot keep up, said Brad Herrick, Arboretum ecologist and chair of the Trails Committee. “We definitely depend on volunteers like Eagle Scouts and folks like the Blanchard family, who have donated money and time to the cause.”
Weather and foot traffic erode trails, Herrick said. Boards on boardwalks rot; nails come up. Sometimes trails need to be redesigned with switchbacks and water diversions.
“We’re in the center of an urban area,” Herrick said. ““We want people to visit and learn about the research and teaching being conducted here and what it takes to maintain a large natural area. The challenge is how do we deal with the visitor pressure in a way that doesn’t compromise our research, teaching and land management goals?” The trails, he said, are essential to lead visitors in and out of the natural areas, allowing them to experience nature firsthand for themselves.
“It gives the whole family a destination,” June Blanchard said of the trail the family helps maintain. When family visits or everyone just wants to spend an afternoon together, “we have a place to go that’s very special to us.”