Visitor Engagement Staff Bring In-Person Connections to Arboretum Gates

Through the extraordinary changes and challenges we have all experienced in 2020, the Arnold Arboretum landscape has remained open. Even as other parks, green spaces, and botanic gardens were closing their gates, the Arboretum saw an influx of visitors arriving from the surrounding neighborhoods and communities by foot, bicycle, and car. With masks required and adequate distancing recommended, people came seeking solace, open space in our 281 acres, and a vital connection to nature. 

Though our landscape stayed open, our Visitor Center in the Hunnewell Building closed in March. Since that time, our friendly Visitor Engagement staff, Ana Eder-Mulhane, Carena Cremin, and Regina Mission, have assisted visitors remotely by answering phone queries, communicating visiting hours and safety guidelines by email, and offering reassurance that the Arboretum would remain open. 

Then, on August 10, a bit of normalcy returned to our interactions with visitors—our Visitor Engagement staff began meeting with visitors in person again, at our entry gates. 

Two women under tent and ranger on horseback
Regina, Carena, and a Boston Park Ranger greet visitors at Walter Street Gate. Kate Sonefoot

Working within guidelines set by Harvard University and the City of Boston, Manager of Visitor Engagement Kate Stonefoot coordinated all of the components to bring our “Visitor Center” directly to visitors as they enter our landscape. After months of separation from the public, staff were eager and enthusiastic to make in-person engagement possible again.

Eder-Mulhane, a bilingual speaker, is glad to converse and translate whenever requested. She conveyed the feelings of her colleagues on their return to the landscape. “(I’m) ten times happier, and I have always loved the job!”

Since beginning the program on August 10, staff have not missed a single scheduled weekend of meeting-and-greeting our visitors. Our remote Visitor Center has moved among four Arboretum gates—Walter Street Gate, Mendum Street Gate, Poplar Gate, and Arborway Gate. Last weekend, the team added a fifth—Washington Street Gate across from the Forest Hills MBTA station. 

Table with plant display, somwan seated behind.
Ana shares information and seasonal interest in Spanish and English at the Washington Street Gate. Regina Mission

Over the weeks, they have encountered a diverse population of visitors—regulars and first timers, families, Arboretum volunteers, and fellow staff. Frequent visitors relayed how much they missed the Visitor Center and their interactions with staff and were thrilled to see familiar faces on their walks. New visitors wanted to know everything from the best walks to take to how to become a member, volunteer, or exhibiting artist. “I feel totally connected,” says Mission, “nature and fresh air are restorative for us.”

For people in the city with no place to go during a pandemic, the Arboretum has proved a beautiful and essential oasis. “We do not know what we would have done,” many appreciative visitors have expressed, “without the Arnold Arboretum.”

“When you give, you receive,” says Cremin, expressing the dual benefit of engaging with visitors in person. Visitors have responded in kind, sharing their appreciation both for the Arboretum and for staff who orient the community to its landscape, plants, and programs.

Tent with several children and woman.
Ana welcomes a family to the Arboretum at Walter Street Gate. Kate Stonefoot

Through their friendly and welcoming presence at our gates, our Visitor Engagement staff are making a visit to the Arboretum more special and more personal to our visitors—and hope to do so until the snow really flies.

From “free” to “friend”…

Established in 1911 as the Bulletin of Popular Information, Arnoldia has long been a definitive forum for conversations about temperate woody plants and their landscapes. In 2022, we rolled out a new vision for the magazine as a vigorous forum for tales of plant exploration, behind-the-scenes glimpses of botanical research, and deep dives into the history of gardens, landscapes, and science. The new Arnoldia includes poetry, visual art, and literary essays, following the human imagination wherever it entangles with trees.

It takes resources to gather and nurture these new voices, and we depend on the support of our member-subscribers to make it possible. But membership means more: by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum, you help to keep our collection vibrant and our research and educational mission active. Through the pages of Arnoldia, you can take part in the life of this free-to-all landscape whether you live next door or an ocean away.

For more tree-entangled art, science, and writing, subscribe to Arnoldia by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum.