Springfield Botanical Gardens reach for national status through accreditation
By Katie Steinhoff, published Friends of the Garden newsletter Feb/Mar 2016
Tucked inside the February/March issue of Ozarks Living magazine
How do you know if our parks and gardens are good? Maybe you have checked them out and have made your decision. Or, you could see what others are saying about us. Try reading visitor comments posted on www.TripAdvisor.com, by researching “Springfield Attractions” named, Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, The Springfield Botanical Gardens, Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center and/or Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden.
You could also follow a number of different Facebook pages, but you would mostly be seeing posts from Friends of the Garden, Master Gardeners of Greene County or one of the garden partners who help maintain the gardens you enjoy.
You could participate in an education program hosted by the University of Missouri Extension; they always collect feedback. All of these consumer reports are great, but may not paint the full picture. Most universities, hospitals, school systems and larger agencies seek to be measured by a higher bar, judged by their peers or evaluated on all the nitty-gritty details in a process called accreditation.
This year ahead we hope will earn a couple of accreditation “crowns” from the different associations we represent at the Springfield Botanical Gardens.
For the past year, The Springfield-Greene County Parks Department has been building its case for accreditation through the National Recreation and Park Association. The Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies provides an authoritative assessment tool that helps assure policy makers, staff and the general public that we have been independently evaluation against industry benchmarks as delivering a high level of quality. To achieve accreditation, our parks must comply with 36 of the 144 fundamental standards and be a minimum of 85 percent compliant on the remaining 108 standards. The entire department has been documenting everything from programs to best practices in maintenance operations. We will receive a site visit from the commission sometime within the next few months. Fewer than 150 parks departments across the country have successfully achieved this designation.
Specifically at the botanical gardens, some similar properties seek their accreditation through the American Association of Museums. After all, we seem much like an art or history museum except our collection is alive! Our plants, landscapes and the wildlife they support, make up the curriculum of the different entertaining or educational programs you could participate with the Parks staff, MU Extension or Friends of the Garden.
I may be biased, but I humbly protest that botanical gardens are more dynamic & complex than parks and museums. Just recently, an accreditation process has been created specifically for arboreta. The Morton Arboretum created the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program to establish and share a widely recognized set of industry standards for the purpose of unifying the arboretum community and providing a mechanism for benchmarking and guidelines for professional development. It is this accreditation that the staff at the Springfield Botanical Gardens seeks in the year ahead.
Until now, we have not been in a position to be considered for accreditation because our knowledge about our entire collection has been incomplete.
Our botanical gardens started with input from the parks department, Friends of the Garden, Master Gardeners of Greene County, Springfield Sister Cities Association, plus the plant donations from more than a dozen other plant societies. Never have details about all of these plants been assimilated in the same place.
Fortunately, we were awarded a cost-share program called Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance (TRIM) offered through the Missouri Department of Conservation. We will be able to have a tree inventory of the major specimens in the park as well as being able to purchase the software for the on-going maintenance of the collection.
Education games, analytics of diversity and donor information will be captured and updated in one location, and published for all to access. I’m looking forward to being able to better understand our collection so we can share our story and participate with peer arboreta in the accreditation process and on-going education, research and display that happens in places like our dynamic gardens!