From planting the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Holiday Flower Show to sprucing up the facilities, Como’s Critical Infrastructure Team helps keep Como Park Zoo and Conservatory going and growing 

Como’s Critical Infrastructure Team helped create this year’s Holiday Flower Show featuring these show-stopping Cortez Burgundy and Golden Glo Poinsettias. A treat for the senses, the vivid holiday colors are accented by rosemary, coleus, scented geranium, yellow walking iris, and lemon trees.

Volunteers from the community have always been the heart of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, helping out with everything from greeting visitors at the door, to potting up the bulbs that bloom every season in the Sunken Garden. But when COVID-19 hit, Como’s more than 1,050 individual volunteers had to stay at home, leaving a long to do list that’s been taken up by Como’s new Critical Infrastructure Team. 

The team is made up of more than 30 Como staff members from the education, public engagement, visitor services, volunteer services, accounting, rental and maintenance departments who were redeployed during Como’s pandemic shut-down last March, and more recently, at the end of November. With no visitors on site, and no volunteers to assist with daily operations, the Critical Infrastructure Team has taken on quite a range of essential tasks, from deep cleaning, to putting fresh coats of paint around campus, and even helping horticulturists maintain the Sunken Garden flower shows. 

“Our Critical Infrastructure Team has been incredibly flexible and nimble during this uncertain time, helping the campus prepare for a lot of changes, from welcoming guests back for reservation-only visits this past summer, to providing our zoo and horticultural staff with the assistance they need to keep all of our essential work going while Como’s doors are closed,” says Como Campus Director Michelle Furrer. 

“It’s been a big change for a lot of us,” says Bekah Hanes, who usually serves as Como’s Learning Experiences Coordinator, creating conservation curriculum to engage Como’s visitors. “Instead of heading to your desk, you get a brand new assignment every day.”

Hanes says that having her own close up view of critical projects around Como’s campus has been illuminating. Earlier this month, for instance, the team assisted with planting hundreds of Poinsettias and other flowers and plants now on display in the annual Holiday Flower Show, which started on December 5. “It’s definitely helped me see Como in a whole new light. That’s a project that takes the horticultural staff months and months of advance planning, and then a full week of installing the show,” Hanes says, “and being a part of the process really gives you a sense of their dedication and creativity.”

Being on the Critical Infrastructure Team has also reinforced what Hanes says she already knew. “I have amazing co-workers. There’s been a great camaraderie that’s built up within the team, because this group of hard-working individuals is what continues to keep Como going during these unprecedented times.”

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