Visitors missed bloom of decade at Morris Arboretum due to COVID-19 outbreak

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Across the 167 acres of Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, the colors of a spring bloom seem ever more vivid, thanks to a mild winter.

"It hadn't looked better in probably a decade and there was no one here to see them except the two mower operators who were mowing the turf around them," said Vince Marrocco, the chief horticulturist.

He is one of the few workers still tending to the garden every day. When the lockdown began, the staff reduced to about 17%. Nine weeks later, about half of the employees are back.

"The effects of this are going to be felt here for a long time in terms of staffing levels, in terms of funding for certain projects," he said.

It will also affect how many visitors will be allowed in when they're eventually allowed to reopen.

"There's just no way to sanitize the facilities when you get thousands of visitors a day. It's too difficult to try to keep it clean all the time," said Marrocco.

To put the situation in perspective, on Mother's Day weekend there would usually be about 10,000 visitors to the arboretum. This past weekend, that number was zero, as it's been for the past few months. Now, the arboretum is projecting a half-million-dollar loss for this fiscal year.

"To put it quite bluntly, we're hemorrhaging money because this is the time of year we have some of our peak visitorship," said Marrocco.

Instead, the flowers are showing off without an audience, safe for the fans on the arboretum's Facebook page. But Marrocco would be the first to say a virtual tour of this spectacle just isn't the same.

"Spring is one of the busiest times in the public garden and so it's difficult not to be open," said Marrocco.

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