Dedicated Volunteers Return in Key Roles this Fall

Arboretum Visitor Center in July with blooming native plants

As UW–Madison prepares to reopen campus and resume in-person classes and activities, Arboretum staff and volunteers are resuming a regular schedule of Saturday restoration work parties, along with other public events, and we are working toward reopening the Visitor Center to the public. Since volunteers play a key role in both operations, planning has focused on comfort and safety, reorganizing volunteer workspace, replacing essential tools and supplies, and refreshing skills and knowledge. We also continue to monitor COVID spread and follow public health recommendations. While we are hopeful about welcoming people back to work parties, educational programs, and the Visitor Center, we know process and operations are still subject to uncertainty. The health and safety of visitors, volunteers, and staff are our highest priority.

After a 17-month hiatus, we will resume restoration work parties on Saturday, September 4, and we look forward to welcoming community members back to restore prairie, savanna, woodland and wetland restoration at four Arboretum sites. As in the past, adults are welcome to attend work parties, and no advance registration or experience is necessary. Groups and youths may participate with advance arrangements. Volunteer team leaders manage the site projects at each work party and provide tools and training for all participants, with coordination and support from Marian Farrior.

We’ve added a new site to our work party rotation – the Lost City Forest. The work party schedule for the rest of 2021 is:

  • First Saturday: Wingra Oak Savanna. Meet at the Arbor Drive parking lot, off Monroe Street.
  • Second Saturday: Core Area and Curtis Prairie. Meet at the Visitor Center.
  • Third Saturday: Grady Tract. Meet at the Grady Tract parking lot, southeast corner of Seminole Highway and West Beltline Frontage Road.
  • Fourth Saturday: Lost City. Meet at the Martin Street parking lot, off Fish Hatchery Road.

Many restoration team leaders have stayed connected with the Arboretum during the pandemic. They have worked individually or in small, distanced groups to remove invasive species, participated in training on fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment, and attended educational field trips to State Natural Areas. Staff are preparing team leaders to resume work parties by replacing old equipment and tools, stocking up on work party snacks, and reorganizing the lab space and gear to make things more accessible. We hope these efforts will facilitate productive, enjoyable, and safe restoration work with community members. If you have questions about restoration work parties, contact Marian, restoration work party manager, at or 608-265-5214.

Planning for Visitor Center reopening has been underway for several months. Because the visitor center is an indoor space and the Delta variant is surging, a plan and timeline for reopening has been harder to settle than for outdoor programs like work parties. Our current plan is to re-open in early to mid-September. Volunteer receptionists play an essential role in Visitor Center operations. They staff the reception desk, ready to answer myriad questions, from “where is the bathroom?” to “where is the best place to see sandhill cranes?” The receptionists are enthusiastic and understanding about what is needed to make Visitor Center reopening feasible.

A team of employees has been working towards this moment, updating phone lists and FAQ sheets, reorienting small groups of masked receptionists, leading training and discussions on fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for volunteer and visitors alike, reviewing emergency procedures, and more. Our favorite new words are “pivot” and “flux,” because plans continue to shift with changing COVID-19 transmission rates and public health guidelines.

—Judy Kingsbury, volunteer program coordinator