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Planners mull arboretum improvements

By Amy Agronis on December 7, 2001 in University

The UC Davis Arboretum needs to improve the appearance of its waterway, add educational signs to plant displays, expand outreach to the region, and, not least, get more funding.

These were some of the findings that emerged from a retreat held Saturday to help plan the future of the 95-acre botanical garden and open space at the south end of campus. More than 60 UC Davis administrators; faculty, staff and community members; and students gathered at Putah Creek Lodge to discuss results of a campus and community survey conducted by the arboretum this fall, and to offer some suggestions of their own.

The survey and the retreat discussions will guide the arboretum's development of a master plan for the next 10 years. The arboretum hopes to have a straightforward plan, with projects and costs, ready by the start of the 2002 fiscal year, director Kathleen Socolofsky said. Then, the plan will be turned over to a small team whose job it will be to make the concepts a reality.

Right now, arboretum staff and participants at the retreat have five goals in mind, said Socolofsky:

  • Improve the arboretum's plant collections, infrastructure (including bathrooms and pathways) and environment. "Just making it a nice place where people can come to enjoy themselves and learn," Socolofsky said.
  • Work with faculty and students to make the gardens a "living museum" through better signs and displays. Make the gardens a better lab for students as well as an educational place for the public, said horticulture graduate student Mark Bibbo.
  • Heighten outreach and marketing to the Central Valley region.
  • Increase funding for capital projects and operating expenses. The arboretum's 2000-2001 operating budget - including university contributions, endowment interest and fund-raising monies was $620,000. The budget is expected to be about the same this year.

By contrast, the UC Berkeley Arboretum had a budget of close to $1.4 million in 2000-2001.

  • Use its human resources more effectively. The arboretum needs more office space, parking and maintenance equipment, for example, for staff and volunteers - "anything we can do to make it easier for people to help us," Socolofsky said."

Already, the campus has allocated $300,000 for a waterway maintenance project, which should get under way in the spring. The stagnant, often algae-covered waterway was mentioned frequently by survey respondents as the improvement most needed.

In 1998, just after Socolofsky was hired, the arboretum developed its first strategic plan. But that plan helped generally direct staff responsibilities and projects, Socolofsky said. "This involves the whole community."

Staff from the arboretum and the Drucker Foundation for Non-Profit Management, who helped lead Saturday's retreat, have identified community members as the arboretum's "primary customers" - the people for whom improvements should be tailored. With that in mind, the arboretum could serve as a major outreach arm of UC Davis, Socolofsky said.

But the arboretum also hopes to tap into the academic community and UC Davis administration for support, she said. In the past, the arboretum often struck out on its own to get funding.

College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean Neal Van Alfen attended the retreat as did other top UC Davis administrators, including Vice Chancellor for Administration Janet Hamilton.

Van Alfen described himself as a strong advocate for the arboretum.

"Our college is actively looking for opportunities to work closely with the arboretum to raise funds for specific projects," he said. "We have already committed some of our resources to prime the pump in fund-raising."

Retreat participant Lynn Kimsey, an entomology professor and a member of the Friends of the Arboretum, said institutional support of the arboretum will be essential as it looks to meet its goals. Private donors often look at a university's backing of a program to decide whether it's worth their money.

"It's very clear that unless the administration supports it, the arboretum won't flourish," Kimsey said.

For a copy of the Arboretum Survey results, call 752-4880.

Media contact(s)

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,