This year, the Arboretum has been busier than ever with visitors looking for safe outdoor activities. We deeply value being a resource for people during these challenging times. The increase in visitors also has an impact on the land, and we have had to educate more people about rules (and why we have them), clean up more litter and repair boardwalks and signage damage, and incorporate coronavirus safety concerns and protocols into everything we do. Those are far outweighed by the many pleasant interactions with visitors who appreciate the Arboretum as a place to escape, explore, and learn.
Following public health and UW–Madison guidance, most of the ranger unit stayed home until July. This put us several weeks behind schedule on trails maintenance. Once everyone was approved to return to work on site, we quickly got started on clearing brush, installing temporary boardwalks, and removing downed trees on the trails. We also had new maintenance tasks that came with the increase in visitation, such as: closing off rogue trails, removing graffiti, and cleaning up trash left by visitors.
After catching up on trails and grounds maintenance, we worked on a couple projects this fall. Thanks to a donation from friends and family of Beth Potter and Robin Carre, we replaced two failing benches on the Gardner Marsh boardwalk. The old benches were built into the boardwalk railing and were pulling away from the supports. We decided not to replace the built-in benches due to the age of the boardwalk and instead chose a Leopold bench design. This design is sturdy, simple to build, and easy to remove if it outlives the boardwalk. I recommend taking a stroll to the eastern platform to enjoy the eight-foot Leopold bench, it is pretty neat!
We also did some much-needed maintenance on stonework near Monroe Street. This project was ideal for working during COVID restrictions, as it could be done individually or while maintaining physical distance from others. We focused on two structures, the steps near Nakoma Road and the Wheeler Council Ring near the Arbor Drive parking lot. Parts of them had become completely overgrown over the last few years. We had to remove thick chunks of sod and plant material before we could even find some of the stones. Under the sod, a layer of packed-in sediment stuck to the stones. We scrubbed each stone with a hard bristle brush, making sure not to remove the soil holding the stones in place. Then we secured loose stones by tamping in the soil around them. We will have to continue with more work in this area in the spring, but it was wonderful and very satisfying to make improvements on these historic structures.
—Stephanie Petersen, ranger