By Carly Kwiecien
As the 105-acres of Gardens is a place of pray, peace and preservation, it is also a place for families and children to gather for both educational and entertaining activities and events year-round.
This year, there several family events hosted by the Gardens, some of which include an Easter Egg Hunt, Reptile Romp, Bug Safari, Native American Heritage Day celebration, Butterfly Bonanza, Haunted Trail and Family Fun Fest and the Maple Sugar Time Demonstration.
Ron Taylor, communications director at Friendship Botanic Gardens, has worked in various capacities to put on these events.
“Usually beginning in the winter, I start researching and trying to book potential speakers and presenters from local zoos, universities, etc.,” Taylor said. “I also apply for grants to try and secure funding to pay the cost of supplies. In the days leading up to the event we usually have to bring out a few carloads of supplies and decorations.”
All of these are tasks that must to be done in preparation for the events. However, Taylor has more fun collecting life specimens to put on display for events such as Bug Safari and Reptile Romp.
“For the Bug Safari, I usually head down to Otter Creek and dredge for dragonfly larvae and tiny shrimp-like organisms called scuds,” Taylor said. “If the water levels aren’t too high, I’ll try to wade into Trail Creek in the hopes of finding a giant crayfish.”
Taylor’s interest in nature began at a young age, and he began volunteering at events at the Gardens in the fall of 2014. This soon turned into a full-time position at the Gardens in the summer of 2015.
“I’ve always been fascinated by nature and science, so it was just a natural fit for me to help plan and organize the educational programs when one of the previous volunteers moved away,” Taylor said. “I love being able to share everything I find amazing and wonderful about nature with other people. When I was a kid, my dad and I would walk the Gardens looking for snakes and turtles and frogs, and it’s really a blast to be able to create programs where I can share that fascination and passion with other people in the same setting. It’s like reliving childhood.”
“He had asked me to cut out some construction paper leaves for a craft project that someone was going to do with the kids at the Gardens,” York said. “When he got home that night, I asked him about the craft project and he told me that the person never did the craft that I had prepped for. That's when I decided to take matters into my own hands and volunteered to help him with all the free education events.”
York does most of the shopping for the events after researching decorations and props needed for each one to help set the scene.
“I try to do as much ahead of time, so I have time and energy to enjoy the kids the day of the event,” York said.
York was recently recognized by Friendship Botanic Gardens President John Leinweber as Volunteer of the Year at the Gardens at the Moonlight in the Gardens Ball on June 16.
In her three years as an active volunteer, she has helped the Gardens expand and improve the educational events by introducing the new Annual Easter Egg Hunt and by helping with the development of the Reptile Romp, Bug Safari and Haunted Trails and Family Fall Fest. She has also been a major contributor to the long-standing Butterfly Bonanza, Native American Heritage Day celebration and Thanksgiving Turkey Walk. York donates a great amount of time, creativity and financial contributions to each event.
“I love hearing and seeing the kids enjoying the Gardens,” York said. “I want them to fall in love with the Gardens, so in the future, they will bring their children to enjoy the Gardens and maybe one day become volunteers or even board members themselves.”
Taylor, like York, believes that these events are important because of the impact they can have on children’s’ futures.
“People are always looking for new ways to connect with nature, and those experiences [at our events] can really inspire and enrich people’s lives,” Taylor said. “Just from my own experiences when I was a kid, I’ll never forget how awe-inspiring it was to look through a net full of mud I scooped out of a pond to see all these strange, writhing, aquatic insects bubbling up from the algae and muck. Whether someone is more captivated by the scientific minutiae of pollinators and insect locomotion or the just the stirring visual poetry of nature, those very different ways of exploring and seeing the world can converge in places like the Gardens.”
This duo has big plans for new events to implement in the future, as well as small changes to enhance the current events.
“As far as new events, I would love to have a family overnight campout type of event or day camp, a movie night in the Gardens and maybe have some mammal-themed events in addition to the insects and reptiles,” York said.
Taylor is interested in introducing late-night events for families.
“There’s an entirely different world of nocturnal life that emerges around dusk,” Taylor said. “You can see dozens of bats shooting through the sky above Lake Lucerne, hear great horned owls calling from the wilderness trail, or see and hear flying squirrels scurrying in the treetops. One of our
speakers at the Bug Safari last year explained to me how he attracts and studies moths by throwing a spotlight onto a sheet in the middle of the forest at night. That would be a really fascinating process to show people and there’s no telling what kind of giant, spectacular moths we could draw out of the forests.”
The next event is the Butterfly Bonanza on Sunday, July 29 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Come by the Gardens to watch monarch butterflies be released, make butterfly feeders and learn more about these creatures in all stages of life. This event is free admission.