Garden at Cox Arboretum in rough shape as family and others blame a lack of volunteers

Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden have overgrown weeds in many of the growing areas. The garden usually grows a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits, recently including French thyme and passion flower. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden have overgrown weeds in many of the growing areas. The garden usually grows a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits, recently including French thyme and passion flower. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Members of the family behind the Maimon Memorial Garden at Cox Arboretum MetroPark say the garden is a mess, and they and park officials contend its problems stem from a decline in volunteer help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are challenged, we see it, we’re frustrated too,” said Rebecca Benná, CEO of Five Rivers MetroParks. “It’s a challenge of employment … and trying to reboot our volunteer program — not just at Cox, but across our park agency.”

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The entry into the Edible Landscape Garden and Maimon Memorial Garden at Cox Arboretum. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The entry into the Edible Landscape Garden and Maimon Memorial Garden at Cox Arboretum. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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The entry into the Edible Landscape Garden and Maimon Memorial Garden at Cox Arboretum. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Some other local groups like the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area also say they have experienced a large decrease in volunteers, though that is starting to improve.

The Maimon Memorial Garden is a designated, ornamental garden within the Edible Landscape Garden at Cox Arboretum MetroPark.

Members of the Maimon family gave about $100,000 two decades ago to improve the edible landscape area and create the memorial garden, which was dedicated in 2009.

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Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden have overgrown weeds in many of the growing areas. The garden usually grows a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits, recently including French thyme and passion flower. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden have overgrown weeds in many of the growing areas. The garden usually grows a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits, recently including French thyme and passion flower. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden have overgrown weeds in many of the growing areas. The garden usually grows a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits, recently including French thyme and passion flower. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Vegetables, herbs and fruit trees are planted in the space, which also has a walking path, pergolas, benches and a shelter.

Dr. Samuel Maimon, who practiced medicine in Dayton for more than 50 years, and his wife, Selma, were fond of gardening and big supporters of the parks. The doctor died in 1991, and Selma died in 2002.

Their son, Walt Maimon, and his wife, Margaret, still live in Dayton. They recently visited the garden for the first time since the pandemic began and said they were dismayed by what they saw.

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The Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden at Cox Arboretum. Members of the Maimon family said they were troubled by the state of the garden. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden at Cox Arboretum. Members of the Maimon family said they were troubled by the state of the garden. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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The Maimon Memorial Garden and the Edible Landscape Garden at Cox Arboretum. Members of the Maimon family said they were troubled by the state of the garden. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The garden is overgrown and looks like a “weed patch,” said Margaret Maimon, who recently attended a Five Rivers MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners meeting with her husband to voice their concerns.

“It was beautiful the last time we were there, and we were so blown away by the changes that we were upset,” she said.

But after the meeting, Walt Maimon said he and his wife were very pleased to learn MetroParks’ leadership knew about the issues and had an action plan.

“We learned they were aware of it, they are on top of it and they’re doing something about it,” he said.

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Walt and Margaret Maimon at a recent Five Rivers MetroParks board of commissioners meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Walt and Margaret Maimon at a recent Five Rivers MetroParks board of commissioners meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Walt and Margaret Maimon at a recent Five Rivers MetroParks board of commissioners meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Walt Maimon said the lack of volunteers is the clear problem. He said he hopes people will roll up their sleeves and pitch in because community assets like the parks need their help.

“It’s a community problem — they are trying to run a community operation and the community’s not helping them,” he said.

Walt Maimon said he’s confident the garden will be restored to its former glory, though he expects that won’t happen until next year, based on planting and growing schedules.

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Rebecca Benná, CEO of Five Rivers MetroParks, at the most recent MetroParks board of park commissioners meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Rebecca Benná, CEO of Five Rivers MetroParks, at the most recent MetroParks board of park commissioners meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Rebecca Benná, CEO of Five Rivers MetroParks, at the most recent MetroParks board of park commissioners meeting. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Five Rivers MetroParks had more than 950 long-term volunteers and more than 1,900 short-term volunteers, the agency said.

Volunteers put in more than 47,100 hours of service, donating roughly the equivalent of $1.1 million in labor, the agency said.

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The Monet bridge at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Monet bridge at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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The Monet bridge at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

“Volunteers are an integral part of the Five Rivers MetroParks team, working side-by-side with staff at all MetroParks locations to extend the agency’s resources,” said Karen Hesser, chief of operations with Five Rivers MetroParks.

But MetroParks suspended nearly all of its volunteer activities during the pandemic and did not restart many until fall of 2021.

Last year, the organization had 193 long-term volunteers and about 380 short-term volunteers, and volunteers donated about 11,800 hours.

So far this year, volunteers have given about 8,700 hours, estimated to be worth more than $222,000 in assistance.

Five Rivers MetroParks has many registered volunteers, but the organization has faced challenges recruiting new ones, as well as paid staff, to help catch up on deferred maintenance at Cox Arboretum, Hesser said.

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Visitors stroll through Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Visitors stroll through Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Visitors stroll through Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

MetroParks says it is dealing with a workforce shortage. The agency has 301 budgeted positions but it currently employs 255 people.

It plans to hire contractors to address specific areas including mulching and tree and shrub maintenance to help staff get caught up and bring the parks back to the standards and levels that visitors deserve and expect, Hesser said.

Other local organizations also have been getting by with fewer volunteers. United Way of the Greater Dayton Area saw a roughly 20% reduction in volunteers in the last fiscal year compared to fiscal year 2018, said Tracy Sibbing, vice president of community impact with the organization.

Volunteering is not back to pre-pandemic levels, but there has been an uptick in interest and people signing up, she said.

“There have been fewer volunteers over the last two years but those numbers are slowly increasing,” she said.

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Visitors walk across the Monet bridge at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Visitors walk across the Monet bridge at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Visitors walk across the Monet bridge at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

However, she said, the pandemic is not yet over, and rising case numbers result in some volunteers, especially older ones, being less comfortable getting involved.

Multiple communities contacted by this newspaper said they do not use or seldom use volunteers for park maintenance, though they rely on them for other needs.

Kettering has a dedicated core of volunteers, some of whom assist with special projects like invasive plant removal, litter abatement, tree installation and light gardening when needed, said Dawn Kirchner, the city’s volunteer administrator.

Kettering has started to see more people interested in volunteering in the last six months, as well as many long-time volunteers returning, she said. The city has seen a decline in youth volunteers to assist with summer camp.

Last year, Beavercreek had more than 400 volunteers donate more than 5,000 hours to city events and projects, like mulching playgrounds, coaching and helping senior citizens, said Katy Carrico, the city’s communications manager.

Unfortunately, over the years the city has seen decline in the number of people who volunteer, but this trend pre-dates COVID, she said.

The Centerville-Washington Park District had fewer volunteers in 2020 and 2021, but there were fewer things for them to do, said Carrie Dittman, marketing and communications supervisor with the district.

She said volunteer engagement this year has been slightly higher than pre-pandemic.

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