In February 2020 Dana Doody got her “dream job” as managing director of the 120 acre Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.
The next month the town – and the Arboretum in Arlington – closed.
“My dream job, then a pandemic,” she said. “It was crazy.”
Doody was concerned about the impact COVID-19 could have on visits and donations.
After a month of closure, the arboretum was reopened. And Doody was pleased to find that the natural social distancing ability of the open space made visitors crave fresh air and outdoor exercise.
“The number of visitors kept going up,” she said. “People were looking for places where they could do something safely.”
The arboretum continues to offer such an option, and on Saturdays and Sundays it has its popular spring fundraiser, “A Brush with Nature,” an outdoor painting event. In the meantime, Doody and members of the nonprofit board of directors are planning a new vision for the future.
They hired two designers to come up with a master plan that includes botanical gardens, a visitor center and an on-site office. The garden extensions do not affect the existing seven trails, but rather focus on the Lake Loop and may include a discovery garden for children, as well as sculptures and other works of art.
Work on the new additions is not expected to begin before 2022. However, those responsible are so excited about the botanical gardens that they have already added them to the name of the arboretum.
The goal, said Doody, is to turn the arboretum into a “destination”.
“This is such an important piece of land,” she said.
Doody succeeded the arboretum’s first female executive director, Diane Machaby, whose departure was “a mutual separation,” said CEO Kevin Blalock.
“Dana did an incredible job spreading the word and getting us more exposure,” he said, referring to increased social media presence and unique events, among other things.
One such event was The Arboretum Goes Batty in December, a nightly partnership with the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Eight of the 13 different bat species were seen in the arboretum.
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“We have some really cool stuff for the end of the year,” said Doody, declining to reveal what they are just now.
Prior to joining the arboretum, she was Director of Development at the North Florida Land Trust. She is also a Florida Master Naturalist.
“I grew up in … Jacksonville, in a pretty wooded area with long-leaved pine,” she said.
Going out to play meant going to the woods, she said.
But now she finds out that she can drive past woodland in Jacksonville a week and drive past the same place a week later to find that it is clear.
“Devastating,” said Doody. “We lost so much to development.”
The master plan designers are Tres Fromme from 3. Fromme Designs and Chris Barkley from HDLA, who have worked on several high profile projects including the Tulsa Botanical Garden, Bok Tower Gardens and Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden.
“We’re thrilled to have designers of this level developing the master plan for the botanical garden,” said Doody. “Improvements will attract more visitors, which in turn will fund more growth in the years to come.”
The master plan process, which will take approximately eight months, was funded by a grant of US $ 30,000 from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund and US $ 10,000 from the River Branch Foundation.
Weaver’s Legacy Fund also awarded the arboretum a challenge grant of $ 70,000 for the first phase of implementation. A capital adjustment campaign will be launched upon completion of the master design plan.
“The arboretum is an important community asset that draws thousands of people on its special trails,” said Weaver. “The plan will provide a vision for a botanical goal that our citizens are sure to benefit from for years to come.”
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The story behind the arboretum
The land that is now the arboretum was part of a mining operation from 1944 to 1961. In the early 1970s, the city of Jacksonville acquired the land as a condition for a passive recreational and free space buffer around a planned sewage treatment plant.
Not used for 30 years, it became an illegal landfill. In 2004, a group of citizens began discussions about redeveloping the property as a non-profit arboretum, and it opened in 2008.
There are now seven volunteer-built trails for a total of 3 miles through 13 different ecosystems. Operations are led by Doody, the board of directors, and a dedicated group of volunteers. Visitors are asked to make a US $ 3 donation to help fund operations.
Blalock said he “saw many growth opportunities” in the arboretum when he joined three years ago. But that growth needs to be carefully planned, he said.
“We’ll take our time and make sure we get every stage right,” he said. “We have no intention of affecting the current … arboretum. We do not intend to cut trees.”
But they want to expand their scope.
In July, a new path was opened for ADA along the lake of the arboretum. The South Loop Ravine Overlook is approximately 1,000 feet long by an average of 10 feet wide to accommodate wheelchair users or other visitors with reduced mobility.
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“We were amazed at the growing interest … even during the pandemic,” said Blalock, noting that the spring 2020 fundraiser, which had to be postponed to October, was still raising more money than ever before.
“As we continue to scale and grow, we will continue to focus on conservation, education and recreation, and expanding and improving this place we all love,” he said. “The sky is the limit.”
[email protected], (904) 359-4109
WHEN YOU GO
The Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is located at 1445 Millcoe Road in the Arlington area. For more information, call (904) 318-4342, email [email protected], or go to jacksonvillearboretum.org.
• “A brush with nature”
The event takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The participating artists of the First Coast Plein Air Painters, located throughout the arboretum, paint their favorite scenes in real time.
The proceeds support both organizations. $ 3 per person is the requested donation. All works of art created at the event as well as other works by the participating artists will be offered for sale.
Food trucks are on site all day on both days, with live entertainment and activities for children from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on both days. Earth Works will also host a plant sale.
For more information, visit jacksonvillearboretum.org/2021-brush-with-nature.