The Bountiful Work of Volunteers

Volunteers from Clean Lakes Alliance and Roche NimbleGen clearing invasive plants from the stairs and trails around the Duck Pond. (Photo courtesy Clean Lakes Alliance)

Volunteers from Clean Lakes Alliance and Roche NimbleGen clearing invasive plants from the stairs and trails around the Duck Pond. (Photo courtesy Clean Lakes Alliance)

The growing season is at an end, leaves have fallen, and there is no denying that summer is over. The shorter days of November can be a time for reflection, harvest celebrations, and giving thanks. In that vein, we celebrate some of the accomplishments of the growing season and offer thanks to the volunteers who, in partnership with staff, helped make them possible.

Longenecker Horticultural Gardens and the Native Plant Gardens thrive thanks to regular attention from volunteers, who get down in the dirt or deep into bushes to weed, prune, mulch, and plant the more cultivated landscapes. In addition to his routine work with the Friday Longenecker Horticultural Gardens volunteer crew, David Stevens worked with 17 volunteers from the Clean Lakes Alliance and Roche NimbleGen who put in 51 hours opening up access to the stairs and trails around the Duck Pond, removing more than four cubic yards of garlic mustard, greater celandine, and other invasive plant species. From trimming last season’s growth and early season weeding to fall seed collecting (and everything in between), 64 volunteers worked with Susan Carpenter in the Native Plant Garden this season.

AmeriCorps NCCC Cedar 2 team with Arboretum staff

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps’ Cedar Two team spent two months weeding gardens, spreading mulch, repairing service lanes, pulling invasive plants, and removing hundreds of feet of deteriorating wire fence bordering Longenecker Horticultural Gardens alongside Arboretum Drive. (There is now an effort underway to replace the woven-wire fence with split-rail.)

Intrepid stewards, more than 50 at last count, are out on the trails in all kinds of weather, monitoring trail and field conditions and making phenological observations to add to the more than eighty-year record of Arboretum data. This enables researchers to identify trends and changes in natural phenomena over the decades. Stewards also actively engage visitors, answering questions, suggesting sights, and, if needed, reminding people of Arboretum etiquette that is in place to protect plants and animals.

In two of many habitat restoration accomplishments: team leaders and drop-in volunteers removed 12 bags of purple loosestrife from Wingra Marsh in one Saturday work party, and the habitat restoration team pulled out widespread Queen Anne’s lace at Pasqueflower Hill over four work sessions. The weekly efforts of restoration volunteers are a crucial part of land care.

The Friends of the Arboretum Native Plant Sale in May had another successful year thanks to the Plant Sale Committee volunteers and dozens of additional energetic volunteers who unloaded trees, shrubs, and flats of plants from delivery trucks; set up tables and signs; and carried out many duties during the event to keep customers happy and the sale flowing smoothly.

Trail in Grady Tract improved thanks to service projects

Portions of the trail segment T1–T3 on the north edge of the Grady Tract have gotten an upgrade courtesy of a Troop 11 Eagle Scout project and a service project by members of the UW chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. So far, more than 35 industrious volunteers have worked with ranger Christy Lowney, hauling gravel to fill in ruts and holes along 300 feet of this popular trail. More work to come!

The camp coordinator, staff naturalists, and eight volunteers kept 146 kids engaged, safe, and content over the three months of Earth Focus Day Camp. Volunteers distributed snacks, facilitated games, wielded glue sticks, and encouraged campers while they explored and learned about prairies, woodlands, and wetlands.

UW–Madison graduate student Carly Ziter and Arboretum ecologist Brad Herrick enlisted more than 30 volunteers to survey jumping worms (Amynthas spp.) in Madison parks and yards. They conducted mustard pours and took note of how many and what types of worms emerged. These citizen scientists helped add crucial information about the distribution of these invasive worm species. During the survey, researchers also confirmed that another Asian jumping worm, Metaphire hilgendorfi, is present in the area.

Grandparents University, an annual event organized by the Wisconsin Alumni Association, has offered a section on restoration ecology at the Arboretum for several years. This summer, children and families program coordinator Jennifer Mitchell and 4 team leaders taught 82 attendees about restoration and led the grandparents and grandchildren in hands-on ecological restoration work in the prairies.

Monitoring bumble bees, particularly the endangered rusty-patched bumble bee, is a vital volunteer activity involving several dozen citizen scientists who use photography to document them and report details on when and where they are found.

Visitors rely on the welcoming, knowledgeable, volunteer receptionists who staff the front desk nearly every day. So far this year, receptionists have greeted more than 28,000 visitors and provided them with maps, tour suggestions, updates on what is blooming, directions to popular destinations, and answers to questions both common and extraordinary.

Volunteers, through their work, nurture a love of nature in everyone they encounter at the Arboretum. The experiences also feed their own learning and love of nature. In this cycle, volunteers give the gifts of time and skills and they gain knowledge, camaraderie, and well-being. They enrich the Arboretum for all who work, visit, and learn here.

—Judy Kingsbury, volunteer program coordinator