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Honoring an innovator by bringing a prairie to life

By Donna Schuld

GREEN BAY – A leader in Green Bay’s horticultural scene is about to be recognized in a meaningful and lasting manner.

Paul Hartman co-founded the Green Bay Botanical Garden and helped launch the NEW Master Gardeners Program.

He spent more than 30 years as a UW horticultural agent and was the driving force behind the preservation of a plot of land set aside for development on the city’s east side – land that became part of the Baird Creek Greenway.

Hartman, 74, will now have a gazebo and signage in his honor, set within a restored prairie on former farmland just off County Highway JJ in the Town of Eaton.

This prairie will soon welcome visitors in 2021 and is home to numerous wildflowers, grasses and more than two dozen species of migratory birds. Submitted Photo

It was the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation’s idea to commemorate his efforts to increase public appreciation for gardening and natural areas.

The Paul Hartman Living Prairie and Gazebo Project will offer visitors a chance to experience a living prairie, complete with numerous wildflowers, grasses and more than two dozen species of migratory birds.

Holly Baseman, executive director of The Baird Creek Preservation Foundation, said the decision came from the board “just talking about doing something for him.”

“Everyone voted and said ‘absolutely, we should do something for Paul,’” Baseman said. “And then we racked our brains for a couple of months about what was the right thing to do.”

The motivation to act now stems from Hartman’s current condition.

In 2014 he suffered a severe concussion and other injuries after a fall from a tree he was cutting down.

With the concussion never fully healing, Hartman has memory problems.

Friends and family said they feel he would still be able to appreciate seeing the gazebo set within the living prairie once it is completed.

Baseman is working with an area artist, Kent Hutchison of Hutchison Art & Design, on the gazebo construction.

Hutchison asked for some artistic freedom in the design to depict living things.

This gazebo will be located in the Paul Hartman Living Prairie. The Baird Creek Preservation Foundation is about halfway to its fundraising goal for the project. Submitted Illustration

Once the weather is good enough for construction, he predicts the gazebo should be completed within two and a half months.

The cost of the gazebo construction is set at $50,000, and the prairie restoration at $11,500. Baseman said the foundation is about halfway to its goal.

As for the prairie restoration, she said this money would pay for about a 10-year period of work on the land.

“The true way to take care of a prairie is just to let it be wild,” Baseman said. “That would be just to get it really well-established.”

She recalls the year when Hartman mistakenly showed up for an environmental clean-up effort one week early.

“And he was just crushed that he was the only one out there, but he said, ‘I just kept picking up trash,’ and he had cleaned up trash for 5 hours by himself,” she said. “Bless his heart. What mattered to him was just doing what he knows to do, which was to care for the greenway. So, he just worked away for 5 hours on his own. He was just extremely passionate about everything he has ever done.”

Steve Lambert met Hartman through the UW-Extension 20 years ago and remembers that he used to say “plan the work and work the plan.”

“When we wondered how to tackle a problem, Paul always seemed to find the important points and helped us determine how to tackle the project,” Lambert said. “He was a great motivator. I will always thank him for that.”

For more information on project progress, visit BairdCreek.org.

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