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Brainerd's legacy of blossoms

Ornamental crab apple trees in bloom beside the Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 5
Ornamental crab apple trees in bloom at the Brainerd post office. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 5
Apple trees in bloom at Brainerd City Hall. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 5
Apple trees in bloom at the Brainerd Dispatch. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 5
A bee comes in for a landing on a flowering crab apple tree in bloom at the Brainerd Post Office. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 5

Flowering ornamental trees across Brainerd are in full bloom, providing an arresting visual and scented spring.

The display, described as stunning by residents who have been walking in the neighborhoods, is in fine form this year with weather cooperating for long-lasting blossoms. A row of champions at the Northland Arboretum highlights 17 ornamental trees, showing a variety of colors and Rudy Hillig's vision for the area. Hillig's dream of creating a place where people could experience and appreciate nature helped turn an old landfill into the Northland Arboretum. The landfill closed in 1972 and Hillig worked with local and state government agencies to create the arboretum two years later.

Ken Lueken, master gardener and master naturalist, is working with the Northland Arboretum to create a full, working apple orchard around the kids' garden. Lueken said the youth program is growing by leaps and bounds. Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge along with young people from boys' and girls' PORT have assisted with the kids' garden.

The vision for the apple orchard is to create an area for educational projects and eventually create a fall cider fest. The site identified for an orchard is across the road from where Hillig planted the flowering ornamental trees. Lueken said the crab apple trees will serve as pollinators for an apple orchard.

The arboretum board approved the plan to pursue funding and create an organizational plan for an orchard from the Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership at the University of Minnesota. Lueken said they have done soil testing at the site and have top-notch people from the area ready to help develop an overall plan and cultural programming. Lueken said if he had his dream, they'd be planting next spring, but the likelihood is more like planting in the fall or perhaps spring of 2020.

It is expected to take two to three years to put the plan into place and another five to seven years for some of the trees to bear fruit regularly. The vision includes providing educational tours and apple grafting. Step by step, Lueken said, things are falling into place for the proposed Rudy Hillig Legacy Orchard. Lueken worked with Hillig closely over the years.

"His big thing was educating children," Lueken said. "He forgot more than I'll ever know and is sorely missed. Since he started the arb, we thought it was appropriate to name the orchard after him. It's a work in progress."

Lueken said they are working on the funding now and should know if they are successful by the middle of June.

The arboretum is open to visitors as well as members. Day passes are $5, with a $1 cost for those younger than 12. Annual membership for individuals is $30, with $50 for households and $15 for students, $5 for dogs.

The flowering trees throughout the city provide an added incentive to get out and experience spring, with warm summer-like temperatures forecast for the remainder of the week and before a slight chance of thunderstorms beginning the mid-week has a chance to shear the blossoms from the trees.

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