Intern Katie Hammond reflects on her year as a student caretaker and summer intern at Matthaei-Nichols.
By Katie Hammond
Exterior views of the caretaker cottage (above) and the Reader
Center (also known as the James D. Reader Jr. Urban
Environmental Education Center
), right. Three of the five
aretakers live in the cottage, while the other two live in an
apartment on the top floor of the Reader Center at
Washington Heights.

I live in the coolest (and cheapest) house in Ann Arbor. For the past year, I’ve had the privilege of being a caretaker for Nichols Arboretum. Basically, I am to the University of Michigan what Hagrid is to Hogwarts, without the cool pets. Caretakers earn their housing by being the “eyes and ears” of the Arboretum.

This is also my second summer as an intern with the Botanical Gardens. My duties are spread between volunteer services, visitor services, membership and development, and special events. One of the big projects I’m working on this summer is organizing the end-of-summer intern celebration. This summer there are more than 30 interns working in the Nature Academy program at Matthaei-Nichols. This nature-based program helps interns develop professional skills through hands-on projects.
Almost the entire cottage
is covered in wood paneling.
Very groovy baby!

Compared to the number of interns, Arboretum caretakers make up a smaller crew. There are five caretakers altogether, and we complete a number of tasks to help the Matthaei-Nichols staff. We lead volunteer workdays, shovel snow, conduct basic equipment and facilities maintenance, maintain trails, help with special events, create and maintain proper signs, enforce the rules of the Arb, pick up the trash, and other duties as requested. I love that I get to work closely with the other caretakers and staff or independently if I prefer. Perhaps my least favorite task is rule enforcement.

A hint of fall color along the
river road.

At this point, I’ve seen the Arb transition between all of Michigan’s seasons. Fall means 5K runs and beautiful changing colors. The Arb is full of native oak, hickory, and maple trees, as well as a variety of rare and interesting specimens introduced to create our living museum.

Winter, surprisingly, doesn’t scare everyone away. There seems to be a very dedicated group of runners who brave the ice and snow to climb the hill to Geddes. Many people also use the Arb to snowshoe and sled. Oddly enough, many of our most populous volunteer workdays occur during winter when university groups help us remove invasive shrubs and trees.
Our backyard, the southern part of the main valley.

Spring and its warmer weather bring people back to the Arb. In the winter it’s easy to imagine the Arb as our own space. Obviously, the Arb belongs to everyone, but with the return of visitors it seems that every nice day brings a new party of guests to our backyard.

Rhododendron blooming in May by the peony garden.
It’s not yet summer, but animals and humans alike have been sunbathing and relaxing in the Arb. It won’t be long now until kayakers and tubers float down the river and River Landing is flooded not with water but picnicking families. Come August, my time as a caretaker will be over. While I may not miss picking up the trash or enforcing the rules, the Arb will always hold a special place in my memories.
My furry neighbors! Deer flourish
without any large predators in the area.

Sun rising over the Huron River

Selfi of the author in prescribed-
burn gear.

Katie Hammond is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
She just graduated with her Master’s in Social Work and plans
to use her degree to improve human service programs. This year, Katie is working with several different administrative departments
at the Gardens and is also a one of the Nichols Arboretum Caretakers. In her free time, she enjoys reading fiction/fantasy
and traveling. Katie’s internship is made possible by ReDirect,
an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit founded by Steven and Rachel Kaplan. The funds will help Katie explore ways that the Reasonable Person Model can be applicable to Matthaei-Nichols volunteer programs while supporting the organization’s stewardship efforts. Read more about the Reasonable Person Model here.