FRIDAY, JUNE 21: RRA grounds will be closed starting at 5:00 PM for the Great American Campout. The grounds will reopen at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 22.

A Year in a Pandemic Review: How We Stayed Open

Well, here it is almost March again. It's crazy to believe we're here when in so many ways we're still processing everything that happened last March. We still don't know when we'll get to take that final deep sigh of relief (without masks blocking our faces), but we can at least all be grateful that we survived this past year. With the "anniversary" of when the world shut down rapidly approaching, this could be a good time to reflect and be proud of the strength and resilience we have all displayed up until this point. Here are just a few of the ways that we adapted and overcame here at the Arboretum:

From the very beginning the staff made the decision that we did not want to close our gates to the public. We quickly realized that people needed an outlet, somewhere safe to go where they could distance themselves from others. Quite simply, they needed nature. So, we stayed open. At first, with limited hours but then returned to our regular hours in the fall. That, in itself, was a remarkable feat. Our staff had to think and overthink how to keep ourselves and the public safe – sanitizing every tool, wheelbarrow handle, and doorknob after every touch; masking-up in the blazing sun and now the freezing cold; distancing ourselves while we work. We also had some wonderful volunteers, who helped keep the grounds looking beautiful, with the fearless leadership of the Horticulture Staff.

I, myself, am an Educator here. The Education Team witnessed this pandemic in a slightly different light. First, all of our spring field trips were cancelled, and then, Daffodil Day, one of our biggest festivals. We had to think outside the box to find new ways to reach out to the children in the community safely. We started by making a few lessons "in a box" – materials for children to take home and do at their own pace, as well as a few virtual classes. But, we soon realized that people really just wanted to be outside.

At that point, children spent nearly their entire day on the computer for school; they needed a way to get out and get moving. That's when we made the decision that we needed to run our summer camps. We offered our camps both in-person (for a limited number of kids) and as a take-home for those who couldn't be with us. And we did it! The kids had a great time and we were able to keep everyone safe.

In fact, our model for summer camp worked so well, we went forward with all-new outdoor programing in the fall. "Arboretum Afternoons" and "Homeschool Happenings" were born. The Arboretum also hosted an outdoor concert, Virtual Art in the Garden, the Great American Backyard Campout, Celebrate Fall, and Octoberfest, all in only two months! In December, we held our very first Festival of Trees to replace the usual Holiday House Tour, and people were still happy to be outside, even in the cold!

One other unexpected and positive side effect of this year was the sheer number of Scout groups that visited us. Since only September, we have run programs for over 260 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts here at the Arboretum! Even in a foot of snow, they're outside learning about Maple Sugaring and helping us tap maple trees.

I won't say that it's been easy for us, but I can say that it has been worth it. Maybe we've just been lucky so far. But, what we do know is that this community trusts us to be a reliable and safe place to come to in the midst of chaos, and we, in turn, trust them to protect and respect this space. Thank you for supporting us this past year and beyond!