Moving Forward: Campaign for Accessibility

The Master Plan's momentum has taken hold with the Board's update and approval. Of the three core areas (modernizing maintenance features, improving landscape infrastructure, and creating arboretum accessibility), JMU will tackle the first two with its resources.

For information about the Arboretum Stream Restoration Project of Fall 2015, please read the story.

JMU will invest in water best management practices as well as in propagation of specific plants. With this investment, maintenance features will be improved through the consolidation of storage and vehicle sheds to one location. In the same location, a heated greenhouse will be built. This will allow Arboretum staff to more efficiently preserve and propagate native and other species on-site. The second core area, landscape infrastructure improvements, will tackle water and landscape limitations. Due to the grading of the land, the Arboretum struggles with water erosion and storm run-off. The JMU staff, faculty, and students will join together to create a best management practice solution via stormwater computer modeling. The grant-funded modeling will help create a string of catch basins (or ponds) which will then function as habitats.

The third, and perhaps most urgent, component of Phase I of the Master Plan allows the Arboretum and its botanical gardens and lovely views to be accessible to everyone. The Arboretum's Campaign for Accessibility proposed the creation of a new terrace, accessible garden trails, and a stage garden. With completion of these three new projects, a visitor with accessibility issues can explore the Arboretum in much more depth.

The new Ernst Tree Terrace (Terrace), was completed in March, 2012, and is a hilltop patio and pergola adjacent to the Education Center. The Education Center, built with an accessible ramp, is on a hill directly overlooking the open lawn area and the Arboretum's major water feature. The Terrace increases the educational and social workspace of the building, allowing activities to flow from indoors to outdoors, as well as providing a scenic overlook for all types of events. From the Terrace shaded with a pergola, visitors with mobility devices can overlook the Arboretum large lawn, pond, and woods. The Terrace provides space for working and relaxing in the outdoors. Several handicap-accessible raised-bed gardens and a work table will allow people of all ages and all mobility levels to participate in therapeutic gardening programs.

With the initial phase completed February, 2012, the new 0.3-mile-long Robert and Frances Plecker Pond Loop Accessible Trail (Accessible Trail) takes visitors from the Terrace, where with or without mobility devices they then continue to the new Ann O'Connor Jurney Stage Garden (Stage Garden), a stage site which can accommodate live performances or where visitors can pause and enjoy a breathtaking view of the pond and arboretum's iconic bridge. As they proceed, passing gardens suited for migratory butterfly habitat, visitors enjoy the wetlands gardens where dragonflies flit through rushes and aquatic plants before moving on to watch fish and turtles in the pond. Also on the Accessible Trail visitors can pause and watch birdlife at a bird-feeding station, and absorb the beauty of the arboretum's pond waterfall. From there, visitors cross the arboretum's scenic bridge to continue their accessible arboretum visit on the opposite side of the pond, completing the first loop of the Accessible Trail which circles back to the Education Center.

In a subsequent future phase when another donation makes it possible to build a woodland garden loop, the Accessible Trail is planned to continue from the original pond loop upward to the arboretum's original parking lot, and from there to the Pavilion. The planned second phase naming opportunity of the Accessible Trail will allow a complete journey for those with mobility devices, where all visitors will be able to access the Pavilion to picnic in the woods and attend educational workshops and brown bag lecture lunches, and to enjoy beauty ranging from the forest floor ephemeral wildflowers in their spring bloom to spectacular fall colors of the deciduous tree canopy.

Conclusion

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum provides an enriching botanical educational experience within a wooded sanctuary that offers respite from hectic life. Additional future donor financial support will allow visitors to experience more educational opportunities and better access to the beautiful gardens and landscapes. Several times, spring through fall, the Arboretum continues to witness visitors using mobility assistance devices who turn away when unable to physically navigate the gardens nearby the Pavilion. Everyone should be afforded the dignifying human experience of time spent in nature. All persons should be able to navigate through beautiful gardens and relax in a peaceful woodland setting, because all of us “need an infusion of nature to better handle our days.”

Costs for the Campaign for Accessibility

Phase I of the Arboretum's Master Plan was a priority with JMU. JMU dedicated funds needed to meet expenses above naming donations for new accessible features, and dedicated $100,000 to assist with all three accessibility projects. A remaining $300,000 investment was needed and has been met by recent donors, paying for the Ernst Terrace, the Plecker Pond Loop Trail, which is the first phase of the handicap-accessible paths, and the Ann O'Connor Jurney Stage Garden in order to make the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum a pleasure to visit for all. New naming opportunities now exist for expanding accessible access in the future to the Pavilion and its nearby gardens. And prepared for development with naming donations, are new designs for family feature gardens, At Home In The Woods, and new wildflower gardens including a Monarch Way Station garden, and a wildflower meadow display in the arboretum's large lawn viewshed area.

JMU Arboretum Interview
Click here to watch on YouTube.

Grounds open free to the public, dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
The Arboretum offices in the Frances Plecker Ed Center are open weekdays. Calls and emails are answered from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, except holidays. Check the website calendar for holiday closings.

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Directions to the EJC Arboretum
Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at James Madison University
(540) 568-3194, fax (540) 568-5115
780 University Blvd, MSC 3705
Harrisonburg, VA 22807