The Jacksonville Arboretum &Gardens is a tribute to a visionary group of residents.
In 2004 they recognized that a 120-acre parcel once used as a strip mine could be transformed into a haven.
Those dreamers leased the property from the city because they recognized it could become a jewel nestled in the midst of Arlington.
They were right.
All it takes is a short walk down a trail, immersing yourself in the soft greenness of the woods, to recognize that this area is a wonder.
The easy path from the parking lot winds down to a lake. From there wide, well-maintained paths stretch through the greenery and gardens, along a ravine before dipping down toward creeks.
Wooden benches let walkers take in the sights as they take a break. Signs tapped into the ground notify visitors of the plants and trees they’re contemplating.
What is so quiet today was once teeming with activity.
Owned by the Humphries Gold Mining Co. for 20 years in the mid-1900s, the land was stripped of valuable minerals and left as a vacant sand lot.
In its second life, it was a glorified dump site for tires, junk cars and appliances.
Its third life began when it was purchased by the city in the 1970s to stand as a buffer for a nearby wastewater treatment plant. In that life, however, the land was largely left alone to heal. Over the years a diverse number of ecosystems were established.
But its last and best life began when a few visionaries took note.
The city granted the Jacksonville Arboretum &Gardens a 20-year lease on the property and contributed $250,000 to make improvements.
The original visionaries enlisted the help of businesses, the city and volunteers — and then set to work.
They tugged junk from the sand, hauled out tires, mapped and built. The fruits of their work can be seen daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1445 Millcoe Road.
The arboretum, which opened in 2008, is a relocation site for endangered gopher tortoises. For a $500 donation developers can bring the tortoises to the park and free them — two good deeds wrapped into one.
All this good work was accomplished by volunteers. The organization managing the property is a nonprofit, and every ounce of work is either paid for through contributions and grants or accomplished by volunteers.
more volunteers needed
The arboretum is desperately in need of volunteers knowledgeable and able to cut and move large trees.
Winds from Hurricane Matthew damaged large parts of the park. Mammoth limbs and giant trees crashed.
“We had hoped to have about three tree surgery companies willing to come in and volunteer their time,” says Willis Jones, president of the arboretum’s board.
“We’ve only gotten one to commit,” Jones adds, “and we’re looking for ways to get this done.”
Jones says the board even looked into having helicopters fly out the debris to protect the trails from damage — only to decide that it would be too costly.
“I just can’t bring in bulldozers without destroying the trail system,” Jones says.
The arboretum has already scheduled a work day on Saturday, March 25, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to repair the hurricane damage.
Jones is calling upon businesses and volunteers interested in joining the clean-up effort to contact the arboretum through email: email@example.com.
Even volunteers who can’t help with the heavy lifting on March 25 are needed. A sign at the entrance to the arboretum announces that it’s looking for volunteers ranging from fundraisers to event coordinators.
“We like any kind of volunteers,” Jones says.
So why not join the legions of selfless volunteers who have turned this former strip mine into a local public treasure?