Spanning across 145 acres on the east outskirts of Sioux Falls, the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum offers an escape into serene, historic nature. Executive director Diane Gildemaster offers insight into the treasures of the destination.
Mary Jo Wegner originally inspired the project with her love of nature while battling leukemia. After her passing in 2003, Wegner’s family began funding for the arboretum.
“She loved to come to this property and just walk. She spent time at the Minnesota arboretum and thought that Sioux Falls should have something like that,” said Gildemaster. “People like that have the vision. The rest of us just have to take it and keep it moving forward.”
The arboretum boasts an attractive cross between manicured gardens and rustic natural layouts. Several gardens with labeled selections are scattered throughout the property. Over 200 different tree species offer shade, including South Dakota’s largest burr oak.
“When you get here, you’re like, ‘Really? This is part of Sioux Falls?’ It’s a neat little place for people to discover nature and just get outside and do something.”
Trails ready for exploring are open 365 days per year. The paths are also a haven for leashed four-legged friends to stretch and enjoy the outdoors.
“You get down in there and you don’t hear the traffic as much,” she said. “There’s birds singing and a little stream that runs through… it’s just like you’re in a whole different place.”
The Arboretum’s charm doesn’t stop outdoors. The Mabel and Judy Jasper Education Center was built in 2013. Visitors can find friendly faces, trail maps, gifts, and rentable spaces for events. The one-room schoolhouse replica is also a must-see. The room was inspired by 90 years of teaching between Judy Jasper, who funded the facility, and her mother.
“Judy wanted to have something where kids could really understand what it was like in the old days,” said Gildemaster.
The facility and parking areas also reflect the value placed on sustainability there.
“There’s so much potential here, so much future.”
– Diane Gildemaster
“There’s a well inside the building, and we draw heat off of it in the winter and cool the building in the summer,” she explained. “Half of our concrete here is impervious, so it serves as part of the drainage system.”
With summer in full swing, field trips and events of all sizes have become a popular way to enjoy the arboretum. With property along the Big Sioux River, water sport enthusiasts find entertainment at its canoe launch. Couples frequently choose to host weddings on the property. With all the alluring space, there’s endless possibilities.
“We’re a bit of a wedding venue. Photographers are coming out to take pictures of families and seniors,” continued Gildemaster. “It becomes a beautiful backdrop for things like that.”
Gildemaster worked with the Sioux Falls Park and Recreation department for 26 years before becoming the arboretum society’s first full-time executive director. She looks forward to growth at the arboretum.
“We want to expand hours and get more things going in different times of the year. We have a master plan, so we know what directions we want to go into. It’s just a matter of raising the money.”
With free admission and ambitious plans, the Arboretum’s future looks as bright as its freshly bloomed peonies.
“We just want people to come out and see it. Come off the highway and take a walk.”
For more information, visit maryjowegnerarboretum.com.
For bird fans:
Fly into Learning
July 10, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
For aspiring writers:
Poetry in Nature
July 17, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
For aquatic enthusiasts:
July 31, 10 a.m. -12 p.m.
Bring Nature Home
Wildflower seeds are for sale at the Jasper Education Center.
- Lemon Mint/Purple horsemint
- Tropical Milkweed
- Purple Tansy/Lace Phacelia
- Gloriosa Daisy