Nancy Braker, a 1981 graduate of Carleton, assumed the position of Director of the Cowling Arboretum this fall. Formerly the director of conservation of Baraboo Hills and western uplands for The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, she worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1985, and in Wisconsin since 1988 in a variety of roles. She is charged with increasing the role of Carleton’s Arboretum in conservation, education, and in the sustainability of its lands.
What does being director of the arboretum entail?
My primary job is to make sure the Arboretum is managed for all those uses we enjoy it for: recreational use, for conservation and for educational uses. I direct the work of our manager, who is out there battling invasive species and collecting seeds for our restoration work. I work with faculty to explore ways they can use the Arboretum as part of the curriculum. I also work to make sure we have appropriate recreational opportunities for the Carleton community and the Northfield community.
How unique is the “Arb” and tell us the basics.
It is unusual to have such a large property owned and managed by a College. It’s 880 acres and is divided into the upper Arboretum, which is closer to campus and more developed for recreational use, and the lower Arboretum, which is the corridor along the Cannon River and includes lowland forest, upland forests and extensive prairie restoration. What makes it so unique is it’s so available to our students and other members of the Carleton community. It’s so close and easy for faculty to take students there. Students have great recreational opportunities such as hiking or bird watching or cross-country skiing in the winter or riding the upper Arb bike trails. It’s a great place for students to get out and enjoy nature and get away from the stressful academic life they have here at the College.
What education opportunities does the Arb give the Carleton and Northfield community?
The educational opportunities available for students are fairly varied. There are a number of faculty members who use the Arb directly in their class-teaching situations. The ecology classes use it for organized and independent lab projects. Students use it for independent projects they arrange with faculty. The art department uses it for the field drawing class for inspiration. The geology department uses it to study erosion and river features and soil. We’ve even had some English classes use it for inspiration for nature writing. We also have some faculty research going on in the Arb. For instance, Mark McKone has been researching restored prairie and how closely it resembles, we hope, what the original prairie was like.
For the Northfield community, certainly the Arboretum is open for people to enjoy. We also try to offer a couple of field trips per [academic] term that welcome Northfield residents to join us and learn about the Arboretum. We have an extensive amount of information on our website for people to prepare for their trips, whether they want to see a comprehensive bird or plant list or information about our management. We also have some really great artwork on our website from those art classes.
What are your long-range goals for the Arb?
Something I’m very committed to is following in the footsteps of former director Mark McKone and former manager Myles Bakke. We want to continue doing high-quality prairie restorations. They really focused on a diverse planting and plantings from local sources that were well adapted to our climate and soil. We intend to continue those restorations and expand to some forest restorations. We’ll begin working on that and continue working aggressively against some of the invasive plant species. Everyone has heard of buckthorn, but there are probably a dozen that we’re also working against. We’d also like to look at additional areas, including surrounding land use and areas we might work with our neighbors on to encourage different management practices that might help reduce the pressures on the Arboretum. I would also expect to do more education and outreach, both to the Carleton community and the Northfield community.
Early to middle spring is an excellent time to take walks through the Arb and view early spring flowers that will only be in bloom while the trees are still budding, according to Braker. For more information, visit the Cowling Arboretum web site, where you can find an observed species list of flora, fauna and fungi, maps and guides, and recent news about the Arb.