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The idea of an arboretum was first proposed by John Nolen, a landscape architect, in his 1911 report Madison: A Model City.  However, the actual physical space was propagated later when Michael Olbrich 1902 and the Madison Parks Association began raising money to develop parks in an effort to protect Madison’s green spaces and create public access to lake shorelines. Olbrich had high hopes for what the Arboretum could be — a wildlife sanctuary, an experimental forest preserve, a protected area for Native American sacred sites — and convinced the UW Board of Regents to financially contribute to these goals. In 1932, the original 246 acres of land were purchased, and two years later, the Arboretum was officially dedicated with renowned ecologist Aldo Leopold as the research director. Since then, the Arboretum has grown to more than 1,200 acres and rooted itself as a favorite spot among Madisonians and visitors alike.

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