County officials take turns shoveling dirt around the trunk of a bur oak sapling that was planted as part of Friday’s Arbor Day Celebration at the Kenosha County Center Prairie & Arboretum in Bristol. Pictured, from left, are Extension Kenosha County Director Pam Larson, Parks Director Matt Collins, Extension Horticulture Educator Vijai Pandian, Public Works Director Shelly Billingsley, Chief of Staff Tami Rongstad and County Board Chairman Gabe Nudo.

Arbor Day celebration held at the Kenosha County Center Prairie & Arboretum

Ceremonial tree planting adds to growing project in Bristol


Kenosha County is located in the southeastern corner of the U.S. state of Wisconsin. Its population in 2019 was estimated to be 169,561, making it the eighth most populous county in Wisconsin. The county is named after the county seat, Kenosha, the fourth largest city in Wisconsin.

BRISTOL — Some years from now, a majestic bur oak tree will stand tall along the walkway into the Kenosha County Center Prairie & Arboretum, providing shade, beautiful fall color, and a living laboratory for the study of tree diversity in our climate.

That will be thanks to the work of a brigade of planters who took turns shoveling dirt around a sapling Friday afternoon, at a celebration of Arbor Day organized by Extension Kenosha County.

Extension Kenosha County Horticulture Educator Vijai Pandian leads a talk on how trees grow during the Arbor Day celebration Friday at the Kenosha County Center Prairie & Arboretum in Bristol.
From left, Kenosha County Board Supervisor Zack Stock, Chief of Staff Tami Rongstad, Public Works Director Shelly Billingsley and Extension Kenosha County maintenance worker Randy Oster pack up seedlings for Gwen Tonyan, a Bristol Strivers 4-H member, during Friday’s Arbor Day celebration at the Kenosha County Center.

The county arboretum is a project that began in 2020 and made its official debut on Arbor Day last year. It is situated along the one-mile walking trail loop just north of the County Center building at highways 45 and 50 in Bristol.

At present, the arboretum features 94 trees, with plans to add 40 more this year, said Vijai Pandian, Extension Kenosha County horticulture educator.

“The objective of this arboretum is two things,” Pandian said. “One, to showcase the richness and diversity — it’s not only maples that we have. We have more than 100 species of different trees that are more suitable for urban areas. The second thing we also want to assess is how are these trees going to perform for future climate change? How are they going to tolerate urban conditions?”

“Arbor Day is a time to appreciate the beauty of trees and their importance to our environment.”

– Gabe Nudo, Kenosha County Board Chairman

Among the highlights of the trees to be added this year, Pandian said, are a sequoia (one of the world’s largest trees) and a bristle cone pine (the world’s oldest tree). The sequoia seedling came from Manistee, Mich., where its parent tree stands more than 100 feet tall, Pandian said.

The group planting of the bur oak on Friday was led by county officials, 4-H members, and others from the public who came out to celebrate trees.

“Arbor Day is a time to appreciate the beauty of trees and their importance to our environment, and this event is a perfect way to do that,” said County Board Chairman Gabe Nudo.

Joining Nudo from the County Board were fellow Supervisors Brian Bashaw, John Franco, Daniel Gaschke and Zach Stock. Chief of Staff Tami Rongstad represented County Executive Samantha Kerkman.

“I am thrilled that we have an arboretum here in Kenosha County,” Rongstad said. “This is just a treasure. And I can hardly wait to see the oak collection that we get in.”

Kenosha County Board Supervisor Daniel Gaschke and his wife, Emilie, and daughter, Ellie, check out the tree-themed artwork in a 4-H exhibit that was part of Friday’s Arbor Day celebration at the Kenosha County Center in Bristol.

Franco referred to what he called the two most important things in life: Trees and bees.

“Trees soak up carbon dioxide and they give us oxygen; bees pollinate just about everything we eat, practically— fruits and vegetables,” Franco said. “So we need them. It’s extremely important.”

Friday’s festivities also included a tree arts exhibit with works by 4-H members, a talk by Pandian about how a tree grows, and a tree scavenger hunt for children. Visitors were also given seedings of various varieties to take home and experiment on their own properties.

The County Center Prairie & Arboretum is open to the public and is most easily accessed from the northeast corner of the parking lot on the west side of the building, off Highway 45.

More details are available at A brochure featuring a self-guided tour is available for download on the website or in print at the Extension office inside the County Center.