Joliet Junior College honored longtime professor at arboretum

The Joliet Junior College Natural Sciences Department hosted a rededication ceremony on May 3 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Dr. William M. Zales Nature Trail and Arboretum.

Zales was a biology instructor at JJC from 1967 to 1999. He taught courses in botany, general biology, plant taxonomy, ecology, conservation and taxidermy. He believed that all students should know the value of nature and the importance of preservation.

Zales originated the idea of a college arboretum and nature trail in 1975 as part of the College Use Plan. He wanted to show the ecological diversity on campus as well as create an accessible outdoor learning laboratory.

“The 16 acres between the entrance and exit roads was useless except for our grounds crew that was kept busy fertilizing, spreading herbicides and mowing and mowing and mowing the grass," Zales said in a news release from Joliet Junior College.

"So I proposed an arboretum to make the area not only more attractive, but also an education facility for everyone. I must credit at that time the biology department, grounds crew, administration and trustees for agreeing to support these two projects.”

The arboretum currently features over 150 species of trees, shrubs and vines.

JJC's nature trail consists of 2.75 miles of paved trail and 2 miles of unpaved trail. The paved portion is part of the Forest Preserve District of Will County's Rock Run Greenway Trail and can be used for cycling, skating, walking and running.

The unpaved portion is a footpath only. You can find more information and a map of the trail on JJC's Prairie & Forest Trails page.

“The trail gave educational value to a large part of the campus that some people felt was useless,” Zales said in the release.

Upon his retirement in May of 1999, both the arboretum and nature trail were officially named after Zales for his central role in their establishment. In the news release, Zales said he felt honored that they were named after him.

Since 2004, the JJC Foundation and Alumni Relations and the Natural Area Committee have teamed to raise funds for the continued advancement and maintenance of the arboretum through the Trees for Tomorrow campaign.

“My hope is the trail system and arboretum will remain for the education and enjoyment for JJC students and community long into the future,” Zales said in the release.