Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens: The Green Jewel of Arlington

Inspiring. If one word could describe the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens, it would be inspiring. These one-hundred and twenty acres in a nearly forgotten corner in Arlington inspired a fiercely determined group of citizens to realize their dream of creating an arboretum in Jacksonville with the mission of “cultivating a unique environment for recreation, education, and inspiration.”
This green space is free for all guests and the trails have inspired plein air landscape painters to pilgrimage from far away to spend many a spring day amongst the lush landscape. The open space and winding trails have inspired laughter from children, whispers between lovers, and stories shared among good friends: All this from a facility that is not quite seven years old. What’s next? Gail Beveridge, who oversees marketing and development for the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens, says, “Ways to be inspired by the arboretum are endless and we are expanding options to access this beautiful place every day.”
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A land re-discovered
This land, which features thirteen distinct eco-systems within its boundaries, was not always such a stunning place. In fact, for years much of it looked like an obliterated moonscape – barren and devoid of vegetation. From 1941 to 1961, the property was part of the Humphries Gold Mining Company, which strip-mined the area of zircon and the minerals used to make titanium. Without nutrients and organic matter, the soil became barren white sand, known locally as the Arlington Dunes. In the 1970s, the City of Jacksonville acquired the property as a buffer to the nearby water reclamation facility, and for thirty years the property sat idle. “This is when the land began to reclaim itself,” says Gail. “Left to its own, Mother Nature took root again to create what it is today, one of the most remarkably beautiful areas of our city.”

This mostly forgotten land was re-discovered by a group of local citizens who saw the property’s potential as an arboretum and organized a non-profit organization, the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens, Inc., to develop and operate it. In 2006, the property was leased from the City of Jacksonville and community volunteers began work to create an arboretum for all to enjoy. The grand opening was in November of 2008.A Brush with Nature - Children's Art 013
The arboretum is more than just a network of trails: it’s a gateway to nature. The ecological diversity is astonishing. If hiking the Jones Trail which winds down by the creek, a watchful eye may spot a curious wetland plant, Orontium aquatic, also known as “neverwet,” whose glaucus leaves cause water to bead up and roll off like marbles. At the other end of the park on the Rosemary Ridge Trail, guests see a protected area at the Rosemary Scrub Vista highlighting a native species Ceratiola ericoides, also known as Florida rosemary (not edible, but visually very similar to the common variety). This plant requires very specific conditions to grow, and it is thriving here. In central Florida, this plant’s habitat is important for the endangered Florida Sand Skink. Gopher tortoises (a protected species in Florida) are prevalent near the west ridge of Lake Ray, and at any given time, all species of birds, from waterfowl to songbirds, raptors and the occasional owl are part of this dynamic landscape.

The arboretum as a community resource
“Our goal is to provide myriad ways for the community to use the arboretum for their needs,” explains Gail, “which, in turn, creates visibility, support, volunteerism and donorship for the needs of the facility.” Art and nature are married in two signature arboretum events: The Art of Nature, a sculpture exhibit and family festival which launched last fall, and A Brush with Nature, the arboretum’s fourth annual plein air painting event, which is coming up April 16–18. Both are free and open to the public. The arboretum introduced a new fundraiser last year, the inaugural ArborEATum Wine and Food Fest which garnered rave reviews across the city.

arb Reflection Pointe Pavilion - Florence Belle Phoography
This is a perfect wedding venue for couples wanting to exchange vows under the canopy of nature. The arboretum offers six unique locations for ceremonies, including the new Reflection Pointe Pavilion that overlooks Lake Ray, as well as reception areas that can accommodate up to one hundred people. “We are thrilled to offer these new locations for special events to inspire expanded use of the arboretum, and it helps support our mission,” says Gail. “Since the arboretum receives no regular funding through the city, state, or other governmental bodies, one of our strategic planning goals is to increase earned-income sources. Last June, we launched our site rental program for third party events, such as weddings, family reunions, and corporate team-building retreats.”
As a community education and health partner, the arboretum helped launch Step Out in Nature and Discovering Nature Nearby, programs that focus on encouraging children and families to get out in nature. Gail says, “Step Out in Nature (SOIN), was developed with a grant from BCBS Foundation and in partnership with the Healthy Jax Coalition. It will be finishing up in March with awards being given to    the top three Arlington-area elementary schools and top twenty-five students who competed in the contest to complete the most steps walked at the arboretum. A grant from TD Foundation helped us develop the Discovering Nature Nearby program series last year, and we’re pleased to have just received another TD Foundation grant to continue this popular program this year.”
The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is a unique, natural treasure, an enchanted urban forest in the midst of our city. Says Gail, “We want our community to feel like this is their park, their resource, and their place to go that is special to them. A great way to do that is by becoming involved, as a member, a volunteer and/or a donor. Membership makes the perfect gift for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. Our monthly volunteer workdays are a great way to give back and get some exercise. And the arboretum is continuing to  develop new programs and projects to enhance the property and the visitor’s experience. From the moment visitors arrive, we want them all to feel at home in nature and be inspired to return again and again.”
For more information, visit www.jacksonvillearboretum.org or on Facebook. For A Brush with Nature, visit
www.abrushwithnature.org.

Article written by Janet M. Herrick

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Author: Arbus

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