Arboretum showcases variety of experiences

Published 10:51 am Thursday, May 1, 2014

Among the trees at the Margaret B. Upton Arboretum, a fresh crop of sculptures have sprung up, thanks to the recent opening of the Krasl Art Center’s 2014 Biennial Sculpture Invitational. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Among the trees at the Margaret B. Upton Arboretum, a fresh crop of sculptures have sprung up, thanks to the recent opening of the Krasl Art Center’s 2014 Biennial Sculpture Invitational. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

ST. JOSEPH — While some parks along the St. Joe offer an opportunity to reconnect with nature or to explore the area’s history, the Margaret B. Upton Arboretum, situated near the mouth of the river, offers a variety of experiences for visitors.

Ranging along the south bank of the river for about 1100 feet between the Blossomland Bridge and the historic CSX swing bridge, the park provides a place to exercise, to learn about history, to enjoy nature, and even a place to appreciate art.

A paved path through the gently rolling terrain of the park allows pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy an unimpeded view of the river and its traffic as they travel down the Howard Family Recreational Trail.

Huge freighters can often be seen unloading their cargo on the opposite bank, while smaller vessels, carrying fishermen and other pleasure boaters, travel to and from Lake Michigan. A lookout platform offers an even better view of the river as it rushes to the lake.

A number of placards posted along the bank provide more information about the economic activities that have relied on the river over the years. They discuss such subjects as St. Joseph’s maritime heritage, its boatbuilding industry, its history as a commercial fishing and shipping port, and its current popularity among recreational boaters.

Information can also be learned about the lighthouse supply depot and the railroad swing bridge, which dates to 1904.

As an arboretum, the park is home to a wide variety of trees surrounded by well-tended turf and attractive landscaping. Bench swings have been placed at various locations throughout the park, offering patrons the opportunity to sit and watch the river’s endless flow. Ducks, geese and seagulls frequent the park as well.

As one of the main sites for the Krasl Art Center’s Biennial Sculpture Invitational, the park also boasts a fresh selection of artistic creations for visitors to admire at any time.

Installed at the end of April, the various sculptures provide park visitors with an opportunity to stop and reflect upon the beauty of nature as it is juxtaposed with the artistic expressions of human beings.

The work by sculptors from Michigan and Illinois—some of them local—will continue on display through Sept. 2015. More information about each sculpture can obtained by calling a telephone number listed on the plaque beside each sculpture.

Other sculptures from the 25-piece exhibit can be viewed on the grounds of the Krasl Art Center, Lookout Park, the Box Factory for the Arts, and in the Benton Harbor Arts District.

While the sculptures in this collection have replaced those from the previous biennial sculpture exhibit, much older, permanent sculptures can be found on the bluff overlooking the arboretum and the river.

There, visitors will find a stature commemorating the sacrifices made by five firemen who died during the 1898 fire at Yore’s Opera House. The 1872 “Maids of the Mist” fountain is also located atop the bluff. A more-recently placed chess table and stools provide a place to play a leisurely game while enjoying a view of the lighthouse.

As local residents well know, the bluff itself has a history—having been the location of Fort Miami—albeit a bit further south in Lake Bluff Park. As a makeshift fort built by LaSalle’s men as a location to await his return with The Griffon, it was soon abandoned. Nonetheless, the fort’s significance is commemorated by a historical marker.

Carefully landscaped and mowed, and decorated with modern sculptures, the banks of the St. Joseph River most certainly appear quite different to today’s visitors than they did to LaSalle’s men, to the shipping captains of the 1800s, or even to the crowds who flocked to the area during the heyday of the Silver Beach Amusement Park.

Still, ever-changing yet timeless, the river continues its inexorable journey to the lake.