On the Trails: New Stewards and Curtis Prairie Boardwalk

New stewards, 2022: Polly, Nancy, David, Ann, Mei Lin, and Jeff

New stewards, 2022: Polly, Nancy, David, Ann, Mei Lin, and Jeff

The summer is always a busy season for the ranger unit. It is a time for assistant ranger and volunteer steward trainings, high visitation, trail maintenance, and special projects.

This June we held the first volunteer steward training since the spring of 2019. The two-and-a-half-day training gave volunteers an overview of the Arboretum’s history as well as current projects and programs. The session also coaches prospective stewards on the skills and knowledge needed to comfortably interact with visitors about rule infractions, directions, and a wide range of common and unusual questions. Six new volunteers completed the training and in just a few months they have already put in over 30 hours on the trails. The stewards are essential in helping Arboretum staff facilitate high visitation during the warmer months, especially since the rangers also have seasonal trail-related duties to complete.

Trail maintenance is a big growing-season responsibility for the ranger unit. Tasks include brush-cutting herbaceous vegetation, trimming back overhanging branches, and removing storm-damaged trees from the trail. With over 17 miles of trails, there is a lot of ground to cover. The woodland trails generally only need to be pruned once or twice during the growing season, but the prairie and oak savanna trails need to be brush-cut at least once a month from May through September. Growth in the prairies tends to slow down at the end of the summer, giving us more time to work on trail improvement projects.

The ranger unit’s main priority this summer has been rebuilding a central trail in Curtis Prairie, from A6 to B5. The trail has been closed since early in 2020 when construction started on the Curtis Pond Rehabilitation Project. Part of the stormwater pond project involved scraping away invasive reed canary grass and soil contaminated with seeds. During this process, the old trail boardwalk that bridged a water channel needed to be removed and a section of the trail was destroyed.

Freshly brush-cut trail in Curtis Prairie
Freshly brush-cut trail in Curtis Prairie (Photo: Stephanie Petersen)

The rebuild of the bridge and boardwalk was funded through the Curtis Pond Project, and the work was contracted to Custom Manufacturers. They designed and built a 12-foot bridge in the spring of 2022 and came back out in July to build another 50 feet of boardwalk. Once the bridge and boardwalk were finished, the ranger unit cut a new trail to replace the section destroyed during the reed canary grass removal.

Boardwalk in Curtis Prairie
New boardwalk in Curtis Prairie (Photo: Stephanie Petersen)

We hope to reopen the trail in early September after we complete one more step: spreading gravel on the trail and evening out ruts formed over years of heavy traffic. After a two-year closure, we are excited to reopen this special foot trail that winds through central Curtis Prairie.

—Stephanie Petersen, ranger