Thielke Arboretum unveils new Environmental Education Center


Photo Credit: David Viggiano

The Arboretum’s new Environmental Education Center opens on Arbor Day after being in construction since September of 2017.

by David Viggiano, Staff Writer

One seldom comes across a better way to celebrate Arbor Day like attending the grand opening of the Environmental Education Center in Glen Rock’s very own Thielke Arboretum.

The Arboretum is a wetland forest that has been a Glen Rock landmark since 1954. It recently established an education center that opened on Friday, April 27, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. This grand opening featured speeches by the Thielke Arboretum staff discussing compelling issues regarding the Arboretum and expressing gratitude to those who contributed to the development process of the education center. Over fifty visitors attended, despite the event taking place during school hours on a rainy day.

The celebration continued throughout Saturday, Apr. 28 with a tree seedling giveaway, open house, and story walk. It concluded on Sunday, Apr. 29 with an origami frog activity and scavenger hunt for children, as well as a presentation by Tom Bender, leader of the Bergen Passaic Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey, on environment-friendly gardening.

“We wanted to have a whole grand opening weekend,” said Jean Epiphan, a forest ecologist and land manager of the Arboretum. “We really focused on trying to open for Arbor Day, even though it’s kind of like Arbor Day weekend.”

Planning for the education center started with the need for a bathroom volunteers could use at the Arboretum. The demand for such a facility grew into the idea for an education center which could also provide an indoor space where planned events could be held in the case of inclement weather. Construction began in September of 2017 and continued throughout the remainder of 2017 and the beginning of 2018.

The Arboretum has a number of features beyond its newly opened Environmental Education Center. Volunteer opportunities are abundant for students and other contributors every Tuesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Instead of adhering to a strict schedule, volunteers will work on projects that tend to the current needs of the Arboretum.

“We want people to bring these lessons home so they know that they can actually have a backyard ecosystem,” explained Epiphan.

Other projects are also abundant for high school students at the Arboretum. Elaine Howe, another contributor at the Arboretum, discussed the qualities and the flexibility of available research opportunities.

“I think that volunteering on Saturday mornings is a great way to get to know the Arboretum,” said Howe, “but I would say that once you get involved in that way, there’s more opportunities for high school students to do other projects.”

“We can cater to anybody who is interested to help develop a project,” added Epiphan. “The more research that’s done here, the better. It’s a beautiful thing to have on a resume if you’ve already done a research project before you’ve been in college.”

Glen Rock High School’s Key Club, a service and volunteer club, received a presentation on volunteer opportunities at the Arboretum. Morgan Jackson (‘20) provided details on what the openings mean to students.

“For high school students, I would say the most appealing thing about this volunteer opportunity is the fact that we are helping make a difference,” stated Jackson. “It can further inspire us to try and do bigger things to help better the community.”

The new Environmental Education Center provides a gateway to all the Arboretum has to offer. The area’s natural beauty, along with the various volunteer and research opportunities, keep many coming back. 

“I think it is important for the youth in our community to learn more about the Arboretum,” said Spencer Lichtenstein (‘20), an avid visitor of the park. “It is a great way to learn about the environment and how to help out in the community.”