Volunteers Make the Arboretum Vibrant

Volunteers with Clean Lakes Alliance Renew the Blue Volunteer Days help out at the Arboretum.

Volunteers with Clean Lakes Alliance Renew the Blue Volunteer Days help out at the Arboretum.

Take a random sampling of Arboretum happenings: Expanding populations of the state endangered wildflower wild camassia (Camassia scilloides) at Wingra Oak Savanna. The rusty-patched bumblebee, a candidate for federal endangered species status, in residence and monitored at the Arboretum. Dozens of garden beds weeded. Thousands of visitors greeted. Free events publicized online far and wide. Acres of prairie and oak savanna safely burned. Hundreds of bluebird chicks fledged. Aldo Leopold’s words read aloud. What do all of these achievements have in common? Volunteers!

Each year volunteers collaborate with staff to restore at-risk ecosystems, maintain nationally significant horticultural tree and shrub collections, educate visitors, monitor plant and animal species, update records, and much more. In 2016, volunteers contributed more than 12,500 hours to diverse projects and programs. Together we tend this special place.

The 2016 volunteer list includes the names of the 1,045 individuals and the groups who donated their time and energy to the Arboretum in 2016. We thank every person for these contributions. You can add your name to the list by volunteering with us in 2017! If you volunteered in 2016 and do not see your name on the list, contact the volunteer office and please accept our apologies.

Every year we like to profile a few volunteers, and we thank them for sharing their stories. We hope you enjoy learning a little more about them.

Dean Brasser

After retiring from a long City of Madison career, Dean Brasser had more time to pursue birding. To encourage avian visitors he sowed native wildflower seeds in his yard, then turned to the Arboretum with his “what’s coming up?” questions. He often relied on Susan Carpenter, the Arboretum’s Wisconsin Native Plant Gardener, for answers. The visits and conversations led to garden volunteering and a great learning experience. “Susan’s been a wonderful teacher,” he states, “I learn something new every time I’m here.”

It was also an opportunity to give back to a place that has been a part of his life for decades. Dean started visiting the Arboretum when he was a new UW–Madison student from Manitowoc, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing with friends. He continued visiting with his family over the years, growing attached to many part of the Arboretum—the springs in Wingra Woods are at the top of the list. He is also very fond of the Native Plant Garden. The appreciation is mutual—Susan Carpenter describes Dean as “thoughtful, curious, and reliable. He’s an asset to the Arboretum.”

Dean says the Arboretum is an important community resource deserving protection and support. He expanded his volunteer duties in 2016 by becoming a steward, looking after the Arboretum and educating visitors while exploring every corner of the 1,200 acres. Thanks to his Native Plant Garden volunteering, he has come to know many plant species and has deeper awareness and understanding of what he sees on his steward walks in the prairies and forests. Dean is someone visitors can turn to for answers and inspiration.

Jane LaFlash

What does it take to manage Longenecker Horticultural Gardens (LHG), the largest woody plant collection in the state, containing some of the country’s most significant lilac, crabapple, and conifer collections? A passionate and knowledgeable curator, a skilled horticulturist, . . . and a dedicated volunteer corps.

Jane LaFlash has been one of these dedicated volunteers since 2005. For years she weeded around trees and shrubs, often on hands and knees. She lopped off suckers and pruned specimens. And she enjoyed the Friday volunteer crew’s camaraderie and then-curator Professor Ed Hasselkus’s wealth of knowledge.

About a year ago, looking for volunteer work that was easier on her knees, Jane approached the new curator David Stevens about the planting records digitization project she had read about it in a NewsLeaf profile of Clare Moran. The project met Jane’s criteria for a good volunteer job—enjoyable, educational, and worthwhile for an organization she cared about.

The digitization project involves entering data—Latin name, common name, year planted, source of plant, size, comments from curator— from large index cards into a spreadsheet. Thousands of plants have come and gone in LHG over its 83-year existence, so there are thousands of index cards. They often include bits of fascinating historical information.

This might seem like mundane clerical work, but the larger purpose motivates Jane. The digital records will eventually be imported into a botanical garden database and made publicly accessible on the internet. Homeowners, researchers, and breeders will someday be able to examine the collection virtually, to learn what specimens are and have been in it, their origins, and their condition. David Stevens explains that this project can help advance horticulture and contribute to the Arboretum and UW–Madison missions to share knowledge. He concludes, “in an age of emerging plant pests and diseases and an uncertain climate future, knowing what has come before and establishing baseline knowledge is crucial. Thanks to Jane’s meticulous work, we will have this.”

Jessie Garst

Since Earth Focus Day Camp’s beginning in 1991, volunteers have worked alongside staff naturalists to create a fun and educational outdoor experience for summer campers. Jessie Garst has been one of these volunteers since 2014, serving as an assistant naturalist. She leads a group of campers, teaches them to pond dip, passes out snacks, wields scissor and glue stick for crafts, and brings a warmth and enthusiasm to her essential role.

Jessie knows what it takes to make EFDC a great experience because she was a camper herself. In her final year attending, coordinator Jennifer Mitchell noticed Jessie’s warm and friendly manner with the younger kids and asked her to come back as a volunteer. Fortunately, Jessie agreed.

Much of the experience is positive—working with children, spending time outside at a favorite place, hiking to Teal Pond. But there are a few hard parts. When asked what is challenging, the high school junior said, “getting up early in the summer.” Even so, volunteering at camp brings rewards. Jessie really enjoys the young campers’ observations. She sees at least one red-tailed hawk every year, and there are always beautiful flowers in the prairies.

She was especially fond of practicing landscape-scale drawing during an art-focused session. Jessie is in her third year of drawing classes at Memorial High School, and she usually focuses on close-up drawings of people.

When not in school or volunteering at the Arboretum, Jessie can often be found at Three Gaits Therapeutic Horsemanship Center, where she rides and volunteers. To help out, she gets horses ready for other riders, leads horses for riders who need extra support, and puts out hay.

Jessie is looking ahead to the future, to college and career options, but she plans to volunteer with Earth Focus Day Camp for several more summers. This pleases Jennifer Mitchell, who says of Jessie, “she’s always willing to help and is right there with the kids, sees what needs to be done, and just does it. We are lucky to have her.”

—Judy Kingsbury, Arboretum volunteer coordinator