Morton Arboretum Celebrates Centennial with History Hikes

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While the Morton Arboretum has always been a great place to enjoy the best that nature has to offer in the area, 2022 is a special year for the local institution. There are now several opportunities to explore what the expansive property has to offer while learning more about the Arboretum’s 100 year history.

“The Morton Arboretum is celebrating their centennial this year, 100 years of existing as an institution, said Morton Arboretum Manager of Adult Learning Programs Megan Dunning. “And the History Hikes are one way that we are celebrating our centennial through programing we’re offering over 100 different programs celebrating the centennial all year long. And the History Hikes are a way for folks to connect with the Arboretum history. Learn a little bit about those hundred years while walking the beautiful grounds here.”

A Century of Arboretum History

The History Hikes take participants on a two hour guided walking tour, exploring the local flora and fauna and of course the trees that call the Arboretum home. Throughout the hike, you are also taken through the initial discovery, foundation and growth of the Arboretum, which began back in 1922 thanks to the work of Joy Morton.

“So the Morton Arboretum was started by one person’s vision. This was Joy Morton of the Morton Salt Company’s vision for a legacy that he could leave. He founded the Arboretum in 1922 out of his personal estate. At the time, it was 175 acres. From that original 175 acres, the arboretum has expanded to 1700 acres. Today we see over a million visitors and we work here in the seven county region and all over the world to plant, protect and study trees and to encourage people to enjoy trees so that we’ll have more trees around in the future.”

A Legacy in Education

As the Arboretum continued to expand in size and popularity, education and conservation became a vital cog in the mission thanks to the dedication of legendary naturalist, May Watts. The History Hikes and other educational classes and programs offered year-round, provide the opportunity to learn more about Watts, the Morton family and the history of the plants and people found in the area over the past several centuries.

“There’s two main areas of history that have transpired over the years here at the Arboretum, said Education Program Lead Beth Bengtson. “There’s the natural history is the trees, the landscape, how that has changed. Some of the trees that are much older than 100 years of the arboretum itself. So people are often very interested in hearing about some of these trees that have lived here for some cases two or 300 years. And investigating the landscape, the changes that have taken place over the millennia from glacial impacts, landscape design, landscape architecture, changes that have taken place over the hundred years of the arboretum. But then there’s also the human history of the space going back to people who inhabited this place as their ancestral homeland, indigenous people that were here, settlers that farmed these properties, and then the stewardship of the Arboretum staff and volunteers over the past 100 years.”

Centennial Celebrations

The History Hikes will be available once a month in August and September. As part of the Centennial Celebration, in addition to a wide range of specialized classes and events for all ages, the Arboretum and the Chicago Region Tree Initiative are planting 3000 trees around the seven county region and Chicago through next spring. Just one way to help ensure that local trees and the Morton Arboretum will be around to learn from and enjoy for the next 100 years and beyond.

Reporting for NCTV17, I’m Justin Cornwell.