When folks use phrases like “roll up my sleeves” or “get my hands dirty,” they usually just mean them figuratively, but not Tyler volunteer Todd Swanson.

After more than two decades in retail management, Todd longed to balance his life of meetings, phone calls, and corporate travel by incorporating his passion for the outdoors.

Todd first discovered Tyler Arboretum when he and his wife would escape city life in Philadelphia for greener spaces in nearby Delaware County. When the young couple started thinking about expanding their family, a move to the suburbs seemed the next logical step, and they settled in Middletown, just a short drive from Tyler.

Not long after becoming a member here, Todd felt the itch to get more involved, increase his knowledge, and contribute meaningfully to conservation efforts. When his wife saw an email from Tyler advertising a twelve-week training program to become a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist, this was just the opportunity Todd was looking for, especially since he could complete the course on the grounds of Tyler. Click on the link above to read more about the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program but, in a nutshell, it aims to develop a local corps of “master volunteers and service providers” to offer education, outreach, and service dedicated to the understanding and management of natural areas within their communities.

Todd (second from the left in the back row) alongside classmates from the PA Master Naturalist Course. The group still gets together twice a year.

Todd found himself in a class of like-minded folks, including some non-horticulture staff from Tyler (as well as committed volunteers) who, like Todd, wanted to learn more. Completing the program opened his eyes to the opportunities in front of him. So becoming an official volunteer at the Arboretum was a no-brainer: he felt more deeply connected to the place than ever, eager to put his knowledge to tangible use.

When surveying the choices for volunteer placement, once Todd heard there was something called ‘Trail Steward,’ he knew that was for him. “Wait, that’s a thing?” he joked.

He was assigned to the Blue Trail (coincidentally his favorite!). Under the guidance of veteran volunteer Dick Cloud, (if you haven’t gone on one of Dick’s weekly Saturday Wildflower Walks, you are missing out!) Todd began the arduous, detailed work of keeping this busy trail navigable for visitors.

Able to commit his time on his terms, being a Trail Steward allows Todd to pop in after work or whenever he can find time on the weekends. This freedom has enabled him to get to know himself in addition to the woods and trail. “Being out on the trail is a great time to think. I never use headphones or listen to anything. You’re out there with purpose.” Like many other members and guests, Todd is anxiously awaiting for Tyler’s trails to re-open. Work is currently underway to remove trees that have been affected by the Emerald Ash Borer and Tyler’s trails remain closed until they are safe to roam again. You can read more about it here.

He also joined the Natural Areas Team, dividing his time at Tyler between the two groups. Both focus on the thoughtful removal of invasives and clearing spaces to give native plants a chance to survive. Since his training with Pennsylvania Master Naturalist, Todd can more clearly see how the invasives take over an area and can work towards restoring the woods to their more traditional native landscape.

The Natural Areas team is an all-seasons work crew.

Work only stops if the ground is frozen or if there are electrical storms.

Even though he gives about 100 hours a year to Tyler – occasionally volunteering at John Heinz and Chester Creek Watershed as well – Todd can find balance with his family. He and his wife welcomed a daughter in 2016. They were grateful for the paved paths at Tyler when a stroller was part of their regular routine. Now their daughter, whom Todd calls “the best seven-year-old birder on the block,” can play on the treehouses and practice reading while enjoying StoryWalk.

Todd is a passionate volunteer whose efforts play crucial roles in the day-to-day existence of Tyler Arboretum and its longevity. As Todd puts it, he is committed to “Fighting the good fight.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, Tyler Arboretum has many opportunities. From office work to events, to work with the horticulture team, there is something for everyone. Click here for more information.