Director’s Note, April 2020

Photo of Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director

Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)

To the UW–Madison Arboretum Community,

The last few weeks have brought unprecedented changes to Arboretum operations. Our staff, students, and volunteers have responded with creative and thoughtful ways to stay in touch with each other and with our many audiences. While we can’t know how long this “new normal” will last, our work during this period is focused both on continuing to promote our mission during the current health crisis and on being ready to hit the ground running when it is once again safe to interact with each other and community members—other than over screens or by carefully stepping aside to allow a safe distance when we meet on trails or sidewalks.

We are so happy that Arboretum grounds provide an opportunity for people to carry out the essential activity of being in nature during a time of stress and anxiety. My own visits to the Arboretum remind me that spring is still coming; every day brings new birds, new plants peeking out of the ground, and new sounds. But we are also stressing the importance of visiting the Arboretum and other natural spaces safely and responsibly—staying home if you’re sick, maintaining social distance, avoiding crowded areas, leaving no litter, and refraining from activities that could lead to injury or require assistance.

I’ll share a few highlights of what Arboretum staff are doing to ensure that our important work continues during this complicated time. Our communications team is keeping up with changing policies with frequent updates to our website and through social media, keeping people informed about our evolving program schedules, and providing links to activities that address our educational mission and can be done at home. Our education team is preparing contingency plans for what was an extremely busy spring and summer calendar of camps, classes, workshops, and other events, and communicating with people on campus about onboarding activities safely as restrictions are loosened. Our research and land care teams are looking closely at activities that address our mission of caring for the land and advancing the field of restoration ecology. These activities include, among many other things, maintaining the continuity of long-term records of Arboretum ecosystems, and we are working to determine what can be done safely to carry on as much of our mission as possible. We’re also preparing online opportunities to replace the citizen science and other workshops that were scheduled for this spring. While there are differences in the degree to which each of us can carry out our work in our homes, we are pulling together.

This is a time of challenge for everyone. Every day, I am reminded of how grateful I am for the Arboretum team that is stepping up to this challenge in innovative and collaborative ways. We hope that your past and current connections to the Arboretum provide you with the comfort and solace that can be derived from understanding, visiting, and supporting the natural world.

—Karen Oberhauser, Arboretum director