By Shannon Dortch

Pedestrians stroll along daffodils in F.R. Newman Arboretum

Cornell Botanic Gardens has modified access to its grounds and trails to keep them open and available to the public during COVID-19 containment. The 100-acre F.R. Newman Arboretum is closed to vehicular traffic so that pedestrians can readily maintain the recommended six-foot distance from others. 

While New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order restricts some organized and group recreational activities, time spent outdoors while maintaining safe distancing and hygiene practices is permitted, beneficial, and in many cases, encouraged. 

“Research shows that time spent in nature—even as little as 10 minutes—boosts physical and mental well-being,” said Christopher Dunn, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Executive Director of Cornell Botanic Gardens. “Providing opportunities to be outdoors at Cornell Botanic Gardens is all the more important for our mutual protection while stay-at-home orders are in place.”

Visitors who drive to the arboretum are advised to park in Cornell University’s B-lot, adjacent to the College of Veterinary Medicine, and walk the short distance downhill on Caldwell Road. Parking in the Mundy Wildflower Garden lot on the west side of Caldwell Road is extremely limited, and parking is not permitted along the entry road, in order to maintain fire-truck access to the area. 

Cornell Botanic Gardens depends on the cooperation of visitors to keep the arboretum, cultivated gardens, and natural area trails open and available. Visitors are reminded that all of Cornell Botanic Gardens is a living museum. The F.R. Newman Arboretum houses living plant collections of nut trees, crabapples, maples, urban trees, and shrubs. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the diversity of the collections and to refrain from climbing trees, harvesting blossoms or branches, or an anyway damaging or compromising these collections. 

COVID-19 safety for all additionally requires the following:

  • Maintain at least a six-foot distance from others
  • Visit alone or in small groups of family members who live in the same house 
  • Refrain from interacting with Botanic Gardens staff
  • Avoid touching objects and surfaces 
  • Avoid touching eyes, face, or mouth without first sanitizing or washing hands
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or elbow 
  • Not leave any trash or pet waste behind that others will have to touch and take away. 

Visitors are also advised that no restroom facilities are available in any area of Cornell Botanic Gardens. 

Reserving arboretum roadways for non-vehicular use has met with praise from community members who otherwise would have difficulty safely being outdoors in public. 

“I am a cardiac patient and need to walk to stay healthy, as do many elderly in Tompkins County, and I walk in the arboretum because of the wide roads and fewer people there,” said Sandy Buckles of Ithaca. 

Linda Callahan called the F.R. Newman Arboretum “a place of serenity in troubled times,” who drives from Newfield to walk in the arboretum. 

“I find such peace and joy in the beautiful groupings of plants, the sound of the bird and the ponds,” she said. “Everyone is careful to keep their distance, but also everyone has a smile on their face, experiencing, I imagine, what I am. Thank you for providing such beauty and allowing me moments free from COVID-19!”

The grounds around the Nevin Welcome Center also are open, as are trails in on-campus and off-campus natural areas, with the exception of Lower Cascadilla Gorge. Because its narrow trails make safe use impossible during COVID-19 containment, the gorge trail remains closed for the season and will reopen at a future date.