[Featured Image: Photo by Scott Moeller – Prairie bouquet at Linnaeus Arboretum in St. Peter]
Tucked beside the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter, lies a hidden treasure. Unlike your typical pirate’s loot, this trove changes color depending on the season – bright pinks and golds in the spring, rich greens in the summer, and smoky reds in the fall. It celebrates a past era, while opening itself to new visitors and their traditions.
Best of all, the treasure found in the Linnaeus Arboretum is free for all comers.
“I meet people all the time who’ve lived in the area who have never been here,” said Arboretum Director Scott Moeller. “They’ve heard of it, but they know it’s part of Gustavus and they think that you can only come to the Arboretum if you are going to college here. I want people to know that we are open for everyone.”
Unlike your typical arboretum, Linnaeus has no fences or gates. The three-plus miles of twisting paths, parks, gardens, and forests sit tranquilly waiting for visitors to come and explore.
I meet people all the time who’ve lived in the area who have never been here. I want people to know that we are open for everyone.Arboretum Director Scott Moeller
Although the word “arboretum” literally translates to “tree museum,” Linnaeus offers far more than tree varieties. Named after the Swedish botanist and physician who established the modern system of naming and classifying living beings, and who himself is credited with naming and classifying over 10,000 plants and animals, Linnaeus Arboretum is home to some beautiful natural and historical attractions.
“Our arboretum is 130 acres devoted to open park-like spaces, annual and perennial gardens, tree and shrub collections, tall-grass prairie, deciduous woods, and coniferous forests,” said Moeller. “Sprinkled throughout that, we’ve got other unique features.”
A Touch of Sweden
One favorite of these features celebrates a little-known aspect of Swedish heritage. Near the Gilbert Pond, a brick and stone labyrinth rises from the ground to entice visitors into its pathways. The structure is styled after ancient stone labyrinths that are only found on the islands off the coast of modern-day Sweden.
“A lot of people think a labyrinth is a place where you get lost,” Moeller said. “A labyrinth is actually the opposite of that. It’s one, deliberate, twisting and turning path that you follow to the inside and then to the outside. It’s a tool for gaining mental focus and clarity and inner peace.”
More Than Just Botanical
For those who want the thrill of wandering in a beautiful space, the Linnaeus Arboretum also contains a maze made of tall grasses. That’s not the only place that visitors can spend a few minutes of happy solitude, either.
“My favorite feature of the arboretum is the coniferous woods, because it’s one place where you literally can get lost,” Moeller shared. “You’re the only person around and you don’t hear any human-made sounds, just squirrels crashing through the forest. It’s just kind of a quiet, tranquil, remote area where you can really get back to nature.”
Getting back to one’s roots is something the Arboretum is great at facilitating, whether through the natural world or through history. One of its most popular sites is the Borgeson cabin, an 1850s log dwelling originally built near the Minnesota village of Norseland.
“A number of years ago, a professor of geography, Bob Douglas, was doing a lot of interesting research on settler cabins in the area and he discovered this cabin,” Moeller explained. “They took it apart and brought it to Gustavus and rebuilt it.”
When the college moved the Borgeson cabin, its interior was mostly left the same. Gustavus professors occasionally use the space as a classroom for small courses. To help students and visitors better visualize life in the 1850s, the Arboretum planted what is affectionately known as Mormor (Grandma) Clara’s Kitchen Garden that displays plants and herbs which a home cook might have used during that time period.
The Linnaeus Arboretum proud celebration of Minnesota heritage also includes welcoming all types of native furry friends. Whereas a typical arboretum might have a few preventative measures when it comes to non-human visitors, Linnaeus is a sanctuary for a wide variety of insects and birds, as well as weasels, mink, badgers, fox, coyotes, and white-tailed deer.
“We even have one bison in our tall-grass prairie, but it is a very stationary bison – his name is Rusty and he’s made entirely of metal,” Moeller joked. “Since we have the wild habitat space, we get a really diverse array of animals.”
Gilbert Pond on the Arboretum grounds is home to several frog and turtle species as well. Kids often enjoy searching the banks for those telltale plops and splashes while they aren’t at Linnaeus’s specially-designed play space built out of all-natural materials.
Linnaeus Arboretum’s dedication to providing a tranquil – and free! – destination to enjoy nature has not gone unnoticed by the local community. Much of the grounds-keeping is handled by groups of volunteers, while the habitat areas are tended to by the full-time employees. The Arboretum’s staff always appreciates the extra help and has also created a special $60 membership program for those who want full immersion into Linnaeus Arboretum’s doings.
“First and foremost, your membership dollars give you the satisfaction of knowing you are supporting the Arboretum, but in addition to that you get our regular email updates about what’s going on, special invitations to special events, discounts to Arboretum events, and our newsletter,” Moeller said.
The college made the decision to … encourage people to come. Sunshine and fresh air are still some of the best disinfectants aroundScott Moeller
Despite the onset of COVID-19, the Arboretum has remained open for visiting during daylight hours. While many other recreational sites are closed to the public, Linnaeus welcomes all comers provided they stick to basic safety regulations.
“The college made the decision to not discourage people from visiting the Arboretum, but to actually encourage people to come,” Moeller explained. “Sunshine and fresh air are still some of the best disinfectants around and people are looking for a unique place to go visit outdoors. We just ask them to please follow our rules: If you are sick, stay home, and do the social distancing.”
If you are home bound, you still have the opportunity to visit Linnaeus virtually. The Arboretum’s Facebook page features regular updates on its happenings as well as beautiful photography of the grounds. Moeller hopes that the Arboretum’s online presence will also encourage newcomers to come revel in nature.
“It might sound corny, but when I look out my office window and see a family enjoying the space, or students enjoying the space, that’s definitely my favorite part of working here,” Moeller said.