As Ithaca’s biting winds turn into the gentle lull of a spring breeze, winter aconite blooms in the Cornell Botanic Gardens and Cornellians are taking advantage of the warm weather to visit the Conifer Slope and Botanic Buzzline.
Throughout the pandemic, the gardens have been open to the public, albeit with safety precautions — visitors are required to maintain a six foot distance from one another, wear appropriate face coverings,visit in groups of no larger than 10 and all indoor facilities are closed until further notice.
These restrictions have not kept visitors away, nor have they stopped the gardens from continuing their many educational and community driven programs.
In fact, visitation increased significantly in 2020, driven by the closure of other community gathering spaces, according to Shannon Dortch, associate director of communications and marketing at the gardens,.
At one point, the daily visitor count reached over 1,100, and the F. R. Newman Arboretum, Nevin Welcome Center gardens and Beebe Lake Trails recorded 600 visitors daily.
Throughout spring 2019 and fall 2020, when students and professors faced campus closures and social isolation, many took to the gardens. The number of classes that used the gardensas an outdoor classroom increased by 30 percent.
“There’s an element there of peace and togetherness that the gardens are affording by being an outdoor space which is relatively accessible,” said Jeannie Yamazaki ‘21, co-lead of the Cornell Botanic Garden Ambassadors.
Last fall, the gardens established its first team of Garden Ambassadors as part of the larger program, Learning by Leading, an initiative that builds a network of student-led teams that are passionate about environmental issues. The pandemic offered an opportunity for these students to come together to engage in community building, which included starting an online book club featuring titles like “Braiding Sweetgrass.”
The gardens are also maintaining community engagement by transitioning their educational programming online. Webinar series like Verdant Views, which discuss climate issues and their impact on the gardens, drew participants from across the globe, something that was not possible in pre-pandemic years. According to Yamazaki, the international viewership gives the gardens an opportunity to spread their message of beauty, diversity and hope.
“The Botanic Gardens wants to see biocultural diversity,” Yamazaki said. “We want to be protectors of that; we want to empower people to be protectors of that, and you can do that anywhere in the world.”
Yamazaki is grateful for the gardens’ increasing focus on student involvement and their trust in students to advance the gardens’ vision.
“It’s been a source of comfort for me to get to be a part of this program, and get to see the ways in which the Cornell Botanic Gardens is making an investment in students as people who can make environmental change,” Yamazaki said.