SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Take a drive on the east side of Sioux Falls and there's more than just commercial development going on. The Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum is taking shape with a new educational center and five acres of manicured garden space.
The visions of a nature lover and an educator have culminated in a magnificent landscape on the eastern edge of Sioux Falls. This is home to the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum, Perry Nature area and now the Mabel & Judy Jasper Educational Center.
"The fact that we have come this far in this short amount of time, I really am amazed. We did not expect to have this building for several years to come. This was a bonus gift thrown into our lap within the last 18 months," Kiesow said.
Executive Director Lori Kiesow says the mission of the arboretum is to help people connect to nature.
"Part of the goal of an arboretum is to teach people about trees and plants and flowers so that trees and plants and flowers we have planted are all labeled," Kiesow said.
In addition to conservation, the arboretum hopes to teach people who visit here a history lesson on East Sioux Falls. The town used to be located right here. It was a quarry town. Quartzite was mined in the nearby Arrowhead Park.
Step inside the new $1 million Mabel and Judy Jasper Education Center and you can also take a trip back in time. The building is modeled after the old one room school house in East Sioux Falls.
"What I think they have provided for Sioux Falls is a gift-a gift of nature, an opportunity to come out and informally and formally learn and to come away with a love and an appreciation of nature," Coulter said.
Retired Eugene Field Principal Kathy Coulter is on the educational committee and is a lead volunteer. She taught with Judy Jasper, the building's namesake, and says the center is working on a curriculum with the school district for second and fourth graders to come out and learn hands on lessons on everything from science to social studies.
"There could even be math. Like for instance, there is a huge oak tree, which I think you should take a picture of later, and the circumference of that tree is one of the largest trees in the state of South Dakota. Now wouldn't that be a great math experience for those kids, how many arms lengths does it take, or how many children does it take to go around that tree?" Coulter said.
Adults will be able to take classes here too. And the formal gardens behind the center are already being booked for weddings. The cost ranges from $300 to $600 and is a way to fund the programs and facilities.
"We have to match funding with the city of Sioux Falls for everything that happens out here. That is one way we are able to raise funds, by renting the space both outdoors and indoor for events, a business meeting, a wedding, a business retreat, all those type of events," Kiesow said.
The Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historic Site are a county, city and private partnership and it's far from complete. The group hopes to raise a half million dollars to be matched by the city to continue to develop the site well into 2017.
"We've come a long way in the last couple of years. As you can see we have quite a ways to go, but any project of this size takes years and years. We have 145 acres out here and probably will not all be done in my lifetime," Kiesow said.
While it's a work in progress, the beauty of the nature here is complete.
"The key word with our building and facilities here is the word 'wonder.' We want children and adults to come out here and wonder; to think, to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the nature out here," Coulter said.
The arboretum will be hosting a fall festival for the Boys and Girls Club and Youth Enrichment Services on October 30th.
Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historic Site
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