After closing for the first time in its 62-year history, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen has almost completely returned to business as usual.
The Arboretum instituted Phase 3 of its reopening plan on July 31, which opened the majority of attractions and doubled the number of people who can visit each day to 3,200. Prior registration is still required, but visitors can reserve their spots hours before they stop by instead of several days in advance.
The only closed attractions are high-touch activities like tram tours and food service, though visitors can still bring in food for a picnic lunch. Many paths are one way only. But with over 1,200 acres of gardens, walking paths and woods, it’s easy to spread out.
“We’re a really big place with so much to do,” said Director Peter Moe. “We can’t monitor everything, but with so much room, it’s easy to do the right thing and follow the rules.”
The Arboretum is an extension of the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Sciences and is almost exclusively self-funded. Nonmembers pay $15 per person for admission, while members, kids under 15 and University of Minnesota students get in free.
Revenue is supplemented with fundraisers and event income. The grounds may be open now, but from Sunday picnics to adult education classes, almost all events were canceled until September at the earliest.
Popular fundraisers like the annual Taste and Toast, which attracts over 1,200 people who sample dozens of restaurants, beers and wines, were also shut down. The annual gala will still be held virtually, and the Arboretum continues to raise money for projects like a new education center and new roads.
Events aren’t its biggest revenue source, said Moe, but rather serve as a great way to introduce newcomers to the Arboretum who may choose to support it later.
If they don’t meet their budget or fundraising goals, they won’t be alone — none of the University’s attractions, such as the Bell Museum and Weisman Art Museum will be able to meet their goals this year, Moe said. But as the Arboretum begins to reopen, revenue steadily increases.
“Every one of these phases increases the number of people who can visit us. We get some more revenue from ticket sales, gift shops, memberships. It’s really great that it’s growing,” Moe said.
The Arboretum is slowly returning to its pre-COVID numbers, but something major is still missing — the 900+ volunteers that keep the place running.
Because of University of Minnesota policies, volunteer opportunities are paused. Additionally, many staff members must take mandatory furlough, reducing numbers even further.
The remaining staff has worked themselves to the bone and have been forced to pick and choose what they can do, said Arboretum Media Specialist Susie Hopper. They’re down to 29,000 plants from 35,000, there are non-mowed areas and visitors will see more weeds.
“Many of these volunteers are master gardeners, they have worked with us for years. They’re like a finely tuned machine,” Hopper said. “It’s an army, and this year we have no army.”
There may be fewer gardeners on the property, but the Arboretum’s Horticulture Research Center is still going strong.
Major projects like apple breeding are continuing, and the popular Apple House will still be open in the fall for visitors to try the new creations. Scientists are also working to create the perfect seedless grape that can be grown in Minnesota.
The Arboretum also just broke ground on their new regional bike trail, which will link many area cities and make it easier to ride bikes to and through the property. It hopes to finish by 2021.
While a few things are still shut down, the Arboretum is still worth visiting any day of the week, Hopper said.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s still amazing. There are so many beautiful things to look at at any point in time,” Hopper said. “We’re making the best of the summer that we have.”