When I finished my shift on March 11, there was talk - nothing definite - about closing down for a while because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus COVID-19. We'd spent a trepidacious month, handling money and credit cards without masks, gloves, or shields, though we tried to separate ourselves from visitors as much as possible, wash our hands like Lady Macbeth, and furiously wipe down surfaces of the most touchable surfaces like hand rails and door handles.
We knew this thing was different. We knew it was coming.
The center shut its doors to staff and visitors on March 13.We re-opened the 33-acre grounds and gardens Monday, June 15, to members and paying customers who we hoped would enjoy the chance to explore our historic outdoor spaces.
Armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and plenty of clever signage that reminded guests about safe-distancing, we opened the doors. No on-site ticket purchases keep us from handling cash or credit cards; everything must be reserved online beforehand. No paper guides or information to hand out, as maps must be accessed via QR codes on phones. We even offer an outdoor pop-up gift shop and an indoor cooling station for hot days.
What I like most about the new system is getting to rotate around the various guest experience stations around campus throughout the day instead of just working the front desk or Cyclorama all day. So I might spend an hour or two at the shop, then move to the Swan House or Woods Family Cabin or one of the normally unsupervised open entry points like the Arbor or upper Swan Coach House drive. The day goes very fast.
Alas, visitors are very few at this point. I get it. Our biggest draws are the Cyclorama and the Swan House, both of which are closed to visitors right now. There's talk that everything will be opened up - with many safety guidelines and protocols - July 3, but we shall see.
It was great seeing co-workers, getting a lot of exercise (about 12,000 steps in a 6-7 hour shift), and enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous gardens. And it seems while all we humans were in hibernation, a family of foxes has made its home on the grounds and woods surrounding the Swan House - ma, pa, and four babes. I'm not so sure they're glad we're back but I'm hopeful we can respect each other's "habitat" for a while.
If everyone - staff and guests - will stick to the rules, we just might make this thing work.