Celebrating Persistence and Re-emergence: Appreciating the 2021 Volunteers

Longenecker Horticultural Gardens volunteers help land care staff with seed collection

Longenecker Horticultural Gardens volunteers help land care staff with seed collection

Spring, April: a time of rebirth and renewal in the north, a time to appreciate having endured another cold dark winter and embracing the return of longer days and green plants. In April, we also celebrate National Volunteer Week, reflecting on what we achieved in the past year and looking forward to what may emerge in the coming seasons.

In 2021, volunteers who had been active during the earlier months of the pandemic were re-joined by those who had been furloughed. Volunteers played a key role in reopening the Visitor Center, restarting restoration work parties, and successfully carrying out the Friends of the Arboretum (FOA) Native Plant Sale. When night walks resumed in October, volunteers accompanied the naturalists to foster a welcoming, safe experience for attendees. Volunteers returned to Longenecker Horticultural Gardens in midsummer and eagerly tackled much-needed weeding, pruning, and mulching. The volunteer librarian and data entry specialists returned in autumn, and within a few months restored order out of accumulated disorder!

Restoration team leader briefing
Restoration team leader briefing

Stewards were out on the trails in every season, interacting with many visitors and informing the rangers about trail conditions. This was vital support, since so many more people visited in 2021 and the ranger staff was stretched thin.

Carrying on as they had for months, citizen scientist volunteers reported fungal observations, monitored chloride levels in Lake Wingra’s springs, tracked bird and dragonfly observations, monitored monarch adults and larvae, maintained the bluebird trail, and studied many species of pollinators. Journey North volunteers tracked migrations of multiple species and provided behind-the-scenes operational support.

“It’s a testament to the passion and dedication of our volunteers that citizen science projects continued to prosper despite the challenges of the last year. Though we had fewer opportunities to interact, it was always a joy to connect, learn, and monitor with them,” says Julia Whidden, citizen science coordinator

Able to function virtually, both the Board of Visitors and the Friends of the Arboretum board and committees met throughout 2021, providing support in a variety of ways.

Advancement manager Erica Lee says, “Our Board of Visitors made themselves available not only for formal meetings but as advocates and sounding boards for various projects. And thanks to the generosity of this group, Arboretum participation with the Operation Fresh Start Conservation Academy was funded.

The FOA Native Plant Sale runs smoothly thanks to many volunteers

“The FOA board, led by Laurie Elwell, haven’t missed a beat in the last two years. In response to COVID-19, they learned to do everything differently and have continued to evolve their programs and fundraising efforts, such as the Native Plant Sale, and they continue to be our valued partners. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without these two groups and it has been a pleasure working with them.”

We look forward to more activity as 2022 unfolds, as volunteers return to the Native Plant Garden, more service groups participate in restoration and gardening projects, new restoration team leaders join faithful stalwarts, new stewards get trained and head for the trails, and Earth Focus Day Camp returns with volunteers working alongside naturalists to create an adventure-filled outdoor environmental education experience for young people. We look forward to welcoming long-time as well as new volunteers.

“Some of the first people that I met when I started working at the Arboretum were volunteers! I was immediately impressed with their dedication and care of the place. We often talk about the Arboretum as a model for restoring ecologically sustainable relationships between people and the land; our community of volunteers brings this to life in many different ways,” says associate director Joseph Halaas.

While 2021 was far from normal, volunteers still made important contributions. Overall, 387 volunteers contributed 4,528 hours to Arboretum projects and programs. We appreciate their commitment, their consistent attention to safety protocols, and their flexibility among oft-changing circumstances.

We are honored to share the list of all who volunteered here in 2021. Thank you to each person! If you volunteered in 2021 and don’t see your name on the list, please accept our apologies for the oversight and email Judy Kingsbury to add your name.

—Judy Kingsbury, volunteer program manager