Zookeeper Crafts Bench from Wildwood Park Tree Dating to 1820s

Zoo Manager Steve Burns crafted two benches to provide seating in the new Welcome Center at Wildwood Zoo.

Wildwood Zoo Bench Showcases Local, National History

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) In 1883, a growing settlement was officially incorporated as the City of Marshfield.

By that time, an ash tree in Wildwood Park had already predated the city by almost 60 years.

When the tree dating to 1826 was cut down near Wildwood Station a month ago since it had become a hazard, Wildwood Zookeeper Steve Burns knew the wood could provide a great opportunity to not only provide seating inside the new Welcome Center, but educate visitors at the same time.

Burns transformed a round slab from the giant tree into a handy bench with colored dots marking different rings on the tree. By pairing those dots with a nearby sign containing snippets of U.S. and conservation history, visitors can get a tangible sense of the passage of time.

“It’s cool to be able to reference different dates in history and see how the tree has aged over that time period,” Burns said. “It’s just one more avenue we can branch out, no pun intended, to explore this and educate people on different aspects of their community.”

The rings on the left side showcase snapshots of both local and national events. The tree was 61 years old when much of Marshfield was destroyed by fire in 1887, a blaze that started in the lumberyard of the Upham Furniture Factory.

Sometime after 1904, Wildwood Zoo unofficially began when utility workers started caring for two orphaned black bears, much like today’s Kodiak bears, Munsey and Boda, who came to the zoo after their mother was illegal shot by an unguided hunter. The tree was almost 80 years old.

Using the rings on the right side, visitors can learn more about the foundation of the National Parks Service and growing conversations about the environment in the last century, from the publication of “Silent Spring” to the Kyoto Protocol.

“It seems like so long ago, but then when you put it in the perspective of one tree’s lifespan, how much has really happened, those dates in history aren’t that far back,” said Burns. “We’re not that far removed from some of those darker times in our history.”

Further tying the zoo to greater themes of conservation, Burns repurposed lumber salvaged from city forestry projects to craft a second bench with leftover bike racks serving as the ends. The different colors of the bench are from the natural shades of oak, rather than wood stain.

“We wanted enough seating in here for people to relax while their kids play, but also keep it open for larger groups to be able to move around in here,” he said.

Burns expects a busy summer for the Welcome Center, which officially opened last October along with the new cougar exhibit. It includes interactive displays on water and electricity, small animal and honeybee exhibits, and a viewing window for the cougar feeding area.

“I’m excited to see people really come and enjoy the Welcome Center,” he said.

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Kaylin S
Author: Kaylin S

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