It’s no surprise 2020 has been a year of ups and downs in terms of funding for the Northland Arboretum.
Right now, the conservation nonprofit in Brainerd and Baxter looks to be operating at a deficit of about $54,000 for fiscal year 2020-21, but Executive Director Candice Zimmermann hopes things can get back on track.
Increases in membership, gift shop purchases and donations, along with potential grants, could bring the Arboretum out of the hole, Zimmermann told the Brainerd City Council Monday, Dec. 7.
With more than 500 acres of land, the Northland Arboretum has a mission consisting of three pillars — education, recreation and conservation.
Education comes in the form of various classes, from Gardening 101 to hiking workshops to beekeeping classes.
“I think it’s important for those to keep going, especially within our youth population,” Zimmermann said. “And getting the younger kids involved with the Arb is one of the missions that I have … because those routines start young, and if we can get young people involved in the outdoors, it’s not only great for their physical activity and for the environment itself, but it’s great for mental health.”
Recreational activities at the Northland Arboretum include 12 miles worth of trails for walking, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
In addition to being a wildlife preserve, the Arboretum is home to unique environments like one of only five jack pine savannas in the state and houses pink lady slipper plants. A partnership with the Nature Conservancy ensures the Northland Arboretum follows best practices when it comes to conservation efforts.
About 12% of the organization’s revenue — for the fiscal year of Oct. 1, 2019-Sept. 30, 2020 — came from memberships, which decreased March-May and have been up and down since amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student, individual, dual and family memberships are available and include year-round use of arboretum grounds; a quarterly magazine and monthly newsletter; discounts on classes, rentals and programs; and a reciprocal admission program that allows visits to other arboretums throughout the country. Membership dues also support the Northland Arboretum’s education, recreation and conservation efforts and facility maintenance.
Other key funding sources for the Arboretum come from local governments, events, facility rentals and grants/donations. While July and August typically see the most facility rentals, that wasn’t the case this year with so many gatherings canceled. But many customers have already called to reserve space for events in 2021, Zimmermann said.
Grants came from Whole Kids Foundation, Crow Wing Energized and Brainerd Lakes Area Community Funds for the Arboretum’s victory garden; from Sourcewell for an internship program; and from the Minnesota Master Naturalist program for a master naturalist course.
Zimmermann said she’s seeing good donations come in, and the Arboretum’s online auction in September proved successful.
The year’s largest fundraiser is the Haunted Trail, which also saw great success in 2020. With two new scare stations and added infrastructure, the event drew 2,600 attendees and brought in $53,185. That’s an increase of more than $11,000 over 2019.
“We overall had a very successful outdoor COVID-friendly event, so it was nice to see the community support us in that way,” Zimmermann said.
Volunteer hours dwindled at the Northland Arboretum in April and May compared to normal years, but Zimmermann hopes to see an uptick with a new volunteer coordinator on board.
“She’s going to be planning for a spring event, hopefully recruiting some new blood into our volunteer base and getting them out into those gardens and cleaning them up,” Zimmermann said. “We didn’t have nearly as many gardeners out there, so the gardens do need a little bit of help here this spring and summer. But we’re confident that we have some good groups coming in and some solid interest.”
Looking to the future
Ideally, Zimmermann wants the Northland Arboretum to be a must-see destination in the lakes area. To accomplish that goal, she plans to work closely with Visit Brainerd to expand the facility’s tourism reach and feels there is great potential in enhanced programming, especially when it comes to getting youth involved.
“As soon as COVID is over and we can start getting people back in our buildings again, I think we have, as a team, some really great strategies on how we can get those programs up and running,” she said.
Some of the gazebos need work, too, Zimmermann added, from both safety and aesthetic standpoints.
New this year is an online donation option, making it easier for community members to contribute to the Northland Arboretum and set up recurring donations if they choose. An online membership form is available as well.
“The Arb is a wonderful place,” Zimmermann said. “I have been so blessed to be able to work there and be a part of something so amazing.”