Director’s Note, April 2021

Photo of Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director

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

Over the past two-and-a-half years, Arboretum staff have been working on a new strategic plan, which is now posted on our website. While the plan is a forward-looking document, it emphasizes connections to a long and noteworthy past, exemplified in the 2021 designation of the Arboretum as a National Historic Landmark.

We engaged the community in many ways as we developed this plan: through a visitor survey filled out by hundreds of people; by engaging focus groups that included Arboretum volunteers and naturalists, leaders of community organizations, and UW–Madison faculty and staff; and in consultation with the Friends of the Arboretum board, the Arboretum Committee, and our staff. If you were one of the hundreds of contributors to this process, thank you! I’d like to especially thank Meg Domroese and Rich Beilfuss from Gathering Waters and the International Crane Foundation, respectively, who shared their own strategic planning with me soon after I arrived in Madison over three years ago; we modeled our process on what they had done in their organizations.

Our plan builds from the impact that we seek to have in the world: Engaged communities fostering healthy and diverse landscapes. To achieve this impact, we determined that the following essential conditions needed to exist:

  • A growing diverse network of informed, inspired community members who advocate for, benefit from, contribute to, and extend the Arboretum’s work.
  • Arboretum places and management practices that serve as models and testing grounds for conserving, restoring, and caring for land.
  • Science-based knowledge and expertise in ecological restoration, conservation, land management, and social sciences, developed through Arboretum, University, and community collaborations.
  • Highly qualified collaborative staff working in an inclusive culture that values responsive, reflective practice and personal and organizational development.
  • Reliable funding and other resources sufficient to promote the Arboretum mission and support strategic staff and programmatic capacity.

We then identified the strategies and programmatic initiatives that we need to undertake to ensure that the above conditions exist. In essence, these initiatives give us our marching orders for the next several years. Our hope is that the strategic impact and the essential conditions will not change, and that future plans will just require tweaks to the initiatives.

While you may think of a strategic plan as an inwardly focused document, I hope that you clink on the link above, if only to delight in the lovely photos of the Arb included as illustrations. Whether the Arb is a place for you to learn, do research, or simply find respite from the city; whether you appreciate the plants and animals without needing to know their names or delve into the details of the amazing ecological interactions that can take place in a restored landscape; or whether you simply take heart in the fact that the University of Wisconsin–Madison was forward-thinking enough almost 90 years ago to preserve, study, and restore these 1,200 acres in Madison, you are an important part of our reason for being here. We look forward to working together to support engaged communities fostering healthy and diverse landscapes, now and in the future.

—Karen Oberhauser, Arboretum director