Volunteering at the Edith J Carrier Arboretum

HMN Project Spotlight by Dave Forrer on his work at the Edith J Carrier Arboretum at JMU

I was asked to write an article about my experience volunteering at the arboretum…and I’m pleased to do whatever I can to support this wonderful natural gem we have within the sprawl of eastern Harrisonburg. 

Although I had enjoyed walking through the arboretum many times since moving to the Valley in 1979, I had never considered volunteering there until my Master Naturalist Cohort (2018) was given a tour by the arboretum’s director, Jan Sievers Mahon. During the tour, Jan revealed some fascinating facts new to me about forests and trees and recommended a couple of books that inspired me to learn more…and to become a volunteer there. Another new VMN and I (and later, another fellow “cohorter”) joined two other retirees who had just started volunteering there. That team, which is now called the Forest Stewards, has slowly grown to eight or nine people, although it’s not unusual for only four or five volunteers to show up due to conflicts with our personal schedules. The Forest Stewards work for 2 – 3 hours one day per week…usually Tuesday or Wednesday morning depending on the weather. Our tasks include removal of invasive plants (and even some understory native plants to make room for others), spreading wood chips on paths, constructing water bars, and planting trees, shrubs, riparian plants and occasionally wildflowers. We also help with setting up and breaking down the arboretum’s plant sales.

The work isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s great exercise, great camaraderie and it guarantees a couple hours of Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) per week! Admittedly, sometimes I have to make myself stop working……….just to enjoy the forest’s gifts and wonders. Another benefit of volunteering at the arboretum is that we’re always learning about new plants and plant care from the arboretum’s experts. And I have wonderful new friends now from the group too!  

At least three members of the 2018 Cohort, including myself, also signed up to be docents, leading tours through the arboretum for grade-school classes. Of course, that was suspended when the “damndemic” hit; but hopefully, it will start up again in the fall. For some of these kids, it’s their first experience in the woods and it’s truly a joy to watch the amazement in their expressions.

The friendly staff at the arboretum are always looking for additional volunteers…especially master naturalists, because we’re all nature nerds and love what the arboretum has to offer. Even with all the truckloads of invasive plants we’ve removed, there is no chance that we’ll work ourselves out of a “job.” And the more docents, the better (to spread out the load). Anyone interested in volunteering at the arboretum can contact Janis Traas (Arboretum Volunteer Coordinator) at 540-568-3194 or traasjm [at] jmu.edu. Or give a shout-out to me, Dave Forrer, at davidforrer07 [at] gmail.com. A woodland sanctuary may be just the thing you need to bring to your life and to your volunteering experience.

David Forrer, Cohort VI, June 2021

The photo at the top of this post shows HMNs Burt Blessing and Dave Forrer on the right with fellow arboretum volunteers Karen Craun and Craig Chandler on the left. The truck bed is full of invasive stiltgrass they have removed.

The photo on the left below is (L to R) HMN Lincoln Gray with two fellow Forest Stewards Craig Chandler and Mark Briehl. The photo on the right is of a group of young people getting a tour of the Arboretum “forest”.

All photos courtesy of the Edith J Carrier Arboretum.