What’s Local: Klehm a Rockford treasure

By Jim Hagerty 

Magnolia trees, a butterfly garden, countless evergreens and winding trails through vast foliage marks just a portion of what Klehm Arboretum and Botanical Garden has to offer on its tucked-away campus on the west side of Rockford.

The sprawling attraction dates back to 1910, when William Lincoln Taylor began experimental planting of rare trees. Over the next 58 years, Taylor’s work caught the attention of the Klehm family, who bought the facility in the late 1960s. It was maintained for 20 years as a rare attraction before it was donated to the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District in 1985.

It wasn’t long before the facility was regarded as one of the most unique plots of land in the country. The evergreen collection alone was the best in the Midwest, and by the mid-1990s the facility became a leading education center and special events garden. Paved paths were added and Klehm became a true entertainment venue.

“That campaign really was the impetus for all that is this here today,” Executive Director Dan Riggs said. “It established us as the arboretum in the area. It laid the initial groundwork for what has come since then.”

In 1998, the once somewhat hidden treasure became a full-time attraction, open seven days a week with a new botanical center that house the area’s Botanical Society.

This year, the facility received Klehm selected by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL) to participate in the Carroll Starr Endowment Challenge VIII.

The Community Foundation will provide a grant in the amount of $10,000 to complement Klehm’s goal to raise $30,000 by Nov. 1, 2018.

Matching funds become part of Klehm’s endowment fund, which assists with operating expenses.

“The Community Foundation is a critical local partner,” Riggs said. “They hold and manage the fund for us, and are critical in helping not-for-profits reach their potential.”

A 6,000-square-foot pavilion and patio area is currently in the works, as well as a water feature in the children’s garden. The attraction will include a splash pad and stream for toy boats, Riggs said. Estimated costs of the project is $250,000.

More information about Klehm Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is available by calling 815-965-8146. A list of events, attractions, collections and visitor information is at klehm.org. The facility is at 2715 S. Main St. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days week.

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