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Duke gardens remain closed, accessible for some classes and student research

One of Duke students’ favorite study-break spots is still off mostly off limits to them.

Many campus facilities reopened in the fall and are now accessible to those who complete their mandatory COVID-19 testing and daily symptom monitoring. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, however, are still closed for the foreseeable future. 

“As for reopening plans, we don't yet have a reopening date, but [Duke Gardens Executive Director] Bill LeFevre is working with Duke administrators to figure out how and when we may reopen safely, in the context of this unpredictable pandemic,” wrote Orla Smith, director of communications of the Duke Gardens, in an email to The Chronicle.

Duke administrators will “continue to confer about the possibility of a phased reopening in 2021” depending on the state of the pandemic, according to the Duke Gardens website. 

Each year, more than 600,000 visitors come to the Gardens. Since the closure, the Gardens staff has developed programs for the wider Triangle community to engage with the gardens online. This includes virtual field trips, classes and tours. 

“We're looking forward to resuming the in-person collaborative academic programs once it's possible again, though,” wrote Kati Henderson, an education program assistant at the Gardens, in an email.

Duke in the Gardens allowed students and instructors to integrate the Gardens into their academic studies. Past lessons focused on culturally-connected plants for a Spanish language class, Japanese tea garden design for a religion and ecology class and the history of Duke Gardens in the wider context of colonial land practices for an anthropology class.

In the fall, the Duke developed an appointment system for classes, researchers and wellness programs to come and do activities in the Gardens. A faculty member or instructor must lead the visit, and Duke Gardens staff must be in attendance. Visitors must wear masks and practice social distancing to comply with the University’s pandemic safety guidelines. 

Students can also sign up for guided study breaks in the Gardens, where Duke's academic guides lead them through mindfulness exercises and an hour-long walk.

The Gardens have also benefited students who lost access to facilities because of COVID-19.

Senior Abena Antobre was unable to access the off-campus sites for her thesis research due to the pandemic, but her principal investigator suggested she collect some samples in the Gardens. She got permission to do her research there.

According to Antobre, Henderson would meet her at the entrance, stay with her while she collected her data and then walk out with her after she was done.

The Gardens became the place where she collected specimens such as algae and spiders for her research. 

“The experience was good because I thought of it as a cool opportunity to see the Gardens, and most people have not been able to,” Antobre wrote in an email.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the guided study breaks are led by academic guides, not DuWell staff. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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