Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park – “It started with a wrong turn”
The inspiration for LEAF came from a bit of garden envy. LEAF founders Dan and Kathy Dahlkemper took a wrong turn in Youngstown Ohio and ended up at an arboretum. If Youngstown could have an arboretum, why can’t Erie, they thought.
Subsequently, Dan was working with Sister Mary Miller to develop the beautiful landscape and gardens that is now the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House. Artist and gardener Susan Kemenyffy was creating a mural for the building and mentioned that a local garden club was looking for a millennium project. That got Dan and Kathy thinking that perhaps their dream of an arboretum for Erie could become a reality.
After investigating several sites, Frontier Park was identified as the best location. It was close to the lake which gave it a temperate climate yet far enough removed to eliminate the wind and buffering. There was deep sandy soil by the roads and moist soil by the creek which would allow for a variety of trees. The idea was pitched to Mayor Joyce Savacchio who climbed on board as LEAF’s educational plan fit with the city’s recreational plan for the park. At that time, Frontier Park was under maintained and under utilized.
The big break came when Governor Tom Ridge facilitated funding of $337,000 which enabled the development of trails, tree plantings and the installation of electric at the Park. LEAF was formally dedicated on September 8, 2001 after four years of planning, fundraising and planting.
Since that time, 95% of the master plan for the arboretum has been completed. Over 400 trees have been planted, pathways have been created, kiosks were installed, the old bridge renovated and a new bridge installed. Working with environmental groups, the soil and water systems that includes Cascade Creek has been cleaned up. The beautiful Patricia McCain Outdoor Learning Center was built and the Carrie T. Watson Garden club created a labyrinth. In 2012, the new Education Center was built which has provided LEAF with a classroom, office and restrooms. Many community partners have provided financial support as well as in-kind donations of materials and labor.
As the arboretum developed, so did its programming. LEAF has both classroom and on-site educational programs, festivals, and arts and cultural performances. One of its first programs, an Arbor Day celebration for 5th grade students, has been held for 16 years. Others, such as Drop-In Tuesdays began in 2013, with the Little Leaves program for younger children and the 3rd Wednesday Workshops for adults commencing in 2015 .