Arboretum Volunteers: Dedicated to Service

AmeriCorps Cedar 2 team with Arboretum staff

AmeriCorps Cedar 2 team with Arboretum staff

Arboretum gardens, restoration areas, education programs, and research endeavors are thriving, thanks to volunteers who have answered the call to serve.

The 2017 volunteer corps was mighty. More than 800 people devoted over 12,000 hours to land care, education, visitor services, research, and administrative duties. The list of individuals and groups who volunteered can be found here. These community members are bound together by their willingness to serve and a love of the Arboretum.

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”­—Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

To show the breadth of contributions, we share here some of the many 2017 achievements. Volunteers:

  • pruned almost 100 panicle hydrangeas and more than 200 crabapples in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens
  • repaired nearly 350 feet of the T1–T5 trail segment on the north edge of the Grady Tract
  • welcomed and assisted more than 46,000 people in the Visitor Center
  • hosted 42 service groups at restoration work parties
  • removed 286 truckloads of herbaceous weeds from restoration sites
  • unloaded and set up 9 truckloads of herbaceous and woody plants (all native!) for the Friends of the Arboretum Native Plant Sale
  • rehabilitated the overgrown Spring Trail Pond area
  • logged more than 1,200 hours patrolling 17+ miles of trails to assist and educate visitors, monitor trail conditions, identify safety hazards, and track phenological events
  • monitored the rusty-patched bumble bee (newly listed as an endangered species)
  • teamed up with staff naturalists to create fun, educational, and excitement-filled experiences for 115 youth at Earth Focus Day Camp
  • digitized collections information for education programs and Longenecker Horticultural Gardens
  • maintained the bluebird trail, where 19 bluebirds fledged
  • conducted the first-ever city wide jumping worm survey
  • controlled weeds in more than 40 acres of gardens
  • posted event announcements for over 130 Arboretum events to a dozen online community calendars
  • entered and analyzed data on all of these achievements!

Meet four of our volunteers and learn more about what it’s like to volunteer at the Arboretum.

Barbara Anderson
Barbara Anderson

Barbara Anderson is a Friends of the Arboretum board member and Native Plant Garden volunteer. She first visited the Arboretum as an undergraduate art major, hiking the trails and enjoying the gardens with friends. She moved away after college but returned to Madison in the 1970s with her young family. They hiked, skied, and explored together at the Arboretum. Barbara worked as a naturalist and art instructor at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, and she and her husband restored a prairie on land they owned in the Driftless Region.

Over the years, Barbara remained fond of the Arboretum. When the Native Plant Garden got underway, she and other members of the West Side Garden Club became native plant garden volunteers. They have helped plant many sections and weeded in the four acres around the Visitor Center.

“As a member of the West Side Garden Club, Barbara volunteers biweekly in the native plant garden. Her interest in native plants and experience with a large prairie planting at her former home adds to everyone’s learning,” says Susan Carpenter.

Every time she works in the Native Plant Garden, Barbara learns something, too. Over years of volunteering she has been impressed with the staff’s knowledge and expertise. She similarly admires the skills and dedication of her fellow FOA board members, with whom she has served since 2016. Barbara wants to assure those who consider volunteering that they will make a difference, feel fulfilled, and learn something with every volunteer shift. And they’ll appreciate the added benefits of making new friends and spending hours amid restored landscapes, native plant gardens, and formal horticultural collections.

Pat Benedict
Pat Benedict

Pat Benedict dreamed of being an Arboretum naturalist in the 1970s, but was committed to career and family. Over the years she enjoyed classes and attended field trips. In 2005, when life circumstances offered her more time, Pat began volunteering as a receptionist. Since then, Pat has welcomed and assisted visitors from all over the world and talked with staff and fellow volunteers who care about, study, and work to preserve the environment. “It’s a fantastic experience,” Pat says.

She begins each shift reviewing the current news for receptionists, checking out exhibits, and preparing herself to answer a wide range of questions. Finding the answers can be challenging—and is always satisfying. Visitors might present pictures on their phones of plants they want to identify, or ask about Arboretum history, invasive jumping worms, pollinators and native plants, or programs for children. Pat scours resources and talks with staff to gather answers. Every question is an adventure.

Director Karen Oberhauser comments that the receptionists “interact so professionally with visitors. They really are the face of the Arboretum for most of our visitors.”

Pat takes this responsibility seriously. She learns the interests of each visitor and tailors information to facilitate a meaningful outing. Pat recommends being a receptionist because it is always an interesting experience.

Carolyn Butterbaugh. Photo by Randy Eide.
Carolyn Butterbaugh. Photo: Randy Eide

Carolyn Butterbaugh came to volunteering as many volunteers do—because she was asked. During a permaculture class with Marian Farrior, restoration work party manager, she learned about the volunteer team leaders who lead restoration work parties and decided to sign up for the months-long training.

Carolyn had only occasionally biked through the Arboretum but was familiar with prairies and restoration through her job at Avant Gardening & Landscaping, where she prepared sites for prescribed burns, piquing her interest in prairies, oak savannas, and fire as a management tool.

Carolyn enjoyed the training. “It was very well done and educational, and I learned so much from the staff.” As a team leader she has expanded her knowledge of plant identification, natural cycles, and restoration techniques, and connected with others who share her interests. She leads work parties once or twice a month and teaches people how to restore prairies by removing invasive species (without harming the desirable plants—a delicate task), sowing seeds, and preparing sites for prescribed burns. She admires the drop-in volunteers who bring their enthusiasm and energy to restoration work.

Recently, Carolyn also joined the prescribed burn crew led by Michael Hansen, land care manager, after training and certification for prescribed fire crew. In 2017 she worked three fires on the burn line and as a scout to monitor smoke dispersion. Michael appreciates that Carolyn “is very dependable and willing to help wherever needed. She’s a valuable asset on the burn crew.”

Participating in restoration is a rich experience for Carolyn, and she looks forward to seeing how the Arboretum prairies progress.

Adam Scott
Adam Scott

UW junior Adam Scott first visited Longenecker Horticultural Gardens during a woody plant identification class with professor Laura Jull. A landscape architecture major, he was eager to broaden his knowledge of plant identification and learn which trees and shrubs work in landscape designs. His first volunteer task was pruning trees in the collection, and he credits then-gardener Steve Nystrand with teaching him proper techniques for tree health and aesthetics.

Adam has also weeded, spread mulch, planted shrubs, and installed winter deer fencing. Some of his favorite horticultural specimens include the bald cypress tree, ginkgos (even the female with pungent fruits), and the American chestnuts.

Although he is a student with a full course load, Adam sees volunteering as a way to relax, renew his sense of wellbeing, and learn from experts like curator David Stevens. He loves to hear stories and learn details about the plants, often sharing what he learns with friends and family.

Adam recommends volunteering to other students. “It is a really nice experience, beneficial for your mental wellbeing, good experience on a resumé, relaxing, and it builds your knowledge.” Adam will take his education and Arboretum experiences into his future landscape architecture career to create urban forests and bring plant life into big cities so people can enjoy the benefits.

The Arboretum’s beauty, complexity, global relevance, and community connections are made possible by the hundreds of people who bring their hands, hearts, and minds to work on its behalf. We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you!

—Judy Kingsbury, volunteer program coordinator