History of Dahlem

The John and Mary Dahlem Environmental Education Center provides Jackson and the surrounding counties with a place for people to enjoy nature and to learn about the environment. Located just west of Jackson College, The Dahlem Center’s nearly 300 acres are comprised of:

  • The Fannie Beach Arboretum along South Jackson Road. This unique parcel was planted with a variety of indigenous and ornamental trees and shrubs in the mid-20th century.
  • The former J. Sterling Wickwire Farm located along Wickwire Road.
  • Other lands have been added over the years, bring the total land area to nearly 300 acres.

A walk along the five miles of trails that traverse The Dahlem Center’s property provides a glimpse of the diverse habitats that once blanketed Southern Michigan. Elevation remains fairly constant, with gently rolling hills and shallow valleys varying not much more than 100 feet. Crouch Creek, which is a tributary of the Grand River, cuts through the property and provides the water for several wetlands, including once-common fens. The largest portion of the property consists of oak savannah, prairie/grasslands, a conifer plantation, fields, and four ponds.

The Early Years

The Dahlem Conservancy had its start back in 1961 when Mr. James Sterling Wickwire announced the gift of 270 acres of land, including the Wickwire House and two sets of farm buildings (one of which is now part of The Dahlem Ecology Farm), to what was then Jackson Junior College (now Jackson College). After Mr. Wickwire’s death in 1971, the land officially became part of JC’s grounds.

In 1969, when it became apparent that the donated land would not become the site of the college’s new campus, the Biology Department began planning to create a nature center on at least some of the acreage. By 1971, two trails had been cut on the property, one through the Wickwire parcel, the other through the Hickory Hills parcel. In 1973, the Environmental Problems class, taught by Myrna Berlet, developed an Interpretive Master Plan for the future nature center, which was officially authorized by the JCC Board of directors in October of that year.

In 1974 JCC purchased the Fannie Beach Arboretum with funds acquired through the sale of two houses donated by Louise and Bernard Riggs for this purpose. The Arboretum had been planted between 1930 and 1963 by Mr. P.T. Bennett, who later sold it to Mr. George B. Kline, who in turn sold it to the college. The Arboretum was named for Fannie Beach, who had been a dear friend to Mr. and Mrs. Riggs.

The nature center became a reality in 1976 when Dr. Betty Desbiens made a generous donation on behalf of herself and her siblings. The John and Mary Dahlem Environmental Education Center is named for their parents, who instilled in their children a love and respect for the out-of-doors.

The Dahlem Center’s first director, Mr. Ed Lueninghoener, was hired in 1978. Under his guidance, The Dahlem Center developed public and school programs, the first summer ecology day camps, and the first Fall Festival. It was during this year that The Dahlem Environmental Education Center also got its first building – the same one it occupies now, although additions have been added to expand this former garage into office and exhibit space, classrooms and a gift shop.

In 1979, Mr. Tom Hodgson was hired as the new director when Mr. Lueninghoener accepted a position in his home state of Nebraska. Tom had previously worked as Chief Naturalist at the Waterloo Recreation Area, where he still volunteers much of his time today.

More coming soon…