By Joseph Mooney
Even with big shoes to fill at the University’s Gardens and Arboretum, Mike Kost and Yousef Rabhi are hitting the ground running. Kost and Rabhi were recently hired to manage Matthaei-Nichols’ native plant and volunteer programs. With their respective backgrounds in natural areas work and with city, county, and state agencies, they’re creating a lot of excitement at the Arb and Gardens.
Kost replaces staffer Connie Crancer, who retired in May. Most recently, he served as the lead ecologist and a senior conservation scientist with Michigan Natural Features Inventory at Michigan State University Extension. There, he oversaw and conducted research to provide land managers with information on managing native ecosystems and rare species. Kost is also the coauthor or author of more than 75 publications, including three books on the natural communities of Michigan.
Earlier in his career, Kost worked for The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois where he managed the adult natural history education program, taught courses in field ecology and monitoring, and oversaw stewardship of the Arboretum’s natural areas. He has also worked for the University of Wisconsin-Extension and at the Koenen Land Preserve in Milwaukee.
Native Plants Key to Matthaei-Nichols
With its new Great Lakes Gardens, Matthaei Botanical Gardens benefits from a native plants expert who can continue to build on and expand the organization’s efforts to steward the region’s natural heritage. Arb and Gardens director and University of Michigan landscape architecture professor Bob Grese was impressed with Kost’s record of research into and documentation of Michigan's natural ecosystems and his deep understanding of Michigan’s flora.
Helping the broader public understand the importance of stewardship is critical for the future of our natural heritage. Kost understands the role that institutions like Matthaei-Nichols can play in education and conservation efforts, Grese says, “and in helping people learn about our native flora and ecosystems through our various garden spaces.”
Kost will also contribute to natural areas management, including monitoring and protection of special habitats on the Matthaei-Nichols properties. “He’ll also be actively involved in serving as a resource for teaching and research and in helping us explore grant opportunities to support some of our stewardship programs,” Grese adds.
Building and strengthening university connections is a major institutional priority for the Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, says Grese, and “Mike certainly brings expertise that will be valuable to University classes and researchers in understanding the ecosystems on our properties, in assessing and monitoring vegetation, and in understanding how our resources connect and compare with other sites around the state.”
Ask Mike Kost why native plants and systems are important and his answer is simple. “Everything is interconnected,” he says, and with a little practice, “one can begin to recognize the remaining native patches of this place we call Michigan. By restoring and stewarding native ecosystems, we are helping to ensure their survival for future generations. I also hope we can inspire visitors to take an active role in caring for their local natural areas and supporting conservation efforts to protect and steward our precious natural heritage.”
Volunteer Program Integral to Arb and Gardens Ecosystem
Just as native plants play a key role in nature, volunteers contribute greatly to an organization’s operational ecosystem. That’s especially true for Matthaei-Nichols, where more than 1,400 volunteers logged nearly 19,000 hours in the last fiscal year alone. As the Washtenaw County Commissioner and former City of Ann Arbor Natural Areas Preservation Workday Coordinator, new volunteer manager Yousef Rabhi is no stranger to shepherding hundreds of volunteers through dozens of workdays. Rabhi replaces former volunteer manager Tara Griffith, who left in May.
Inspired by his years in pre-school volunteering for the Adopt-a-Stream program, Rabhi went on to be an early volunteer for the Buhr Park Children’s Wet Meadow Project in Ann Arbor. While studying at the University of Michigan's Program in the Environment, he spent all five of his summer terms working at the Arb and Gardens as an intern. After graduating, Rabhi went to work with the City of Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation as the Workday Coordinator. He currently serves as the Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and has served as a Washtenaw County Commissioner since 2011.
Five years as a summer intern at the Arb and Gardens made Rabhi a compelling candidate, director Grese observes. “Yousef is a people person with very good skills at making others feel valued and plugging them into meaningful activities—something critical in managing volunteers, he says. “As a summer intern working for us, he ably managed teams of workers. Since graduation, he has shown similar leadership in working with teams of people in the city administration.”
Rabhi is also very interested in broadening the Arb and Gardens outreach to students on campus, Grese notes, “so I expect to see a strengthening of those ties. And I see him continuing to build on the foundation that former volunteer manager Tara Griffith laid in recruiting a diverse pool of volunteers and running a well-managed program.”
Having devoted his life to helping people and working with the public to build a better community and better environment, Rabhi looks forward to meeting each volunteer personally. Among his many goals, he adds, “I hope to empower staff and volunteers to help build the capacity of the volunteer program. With so many great organizations in this community, there are also many opportunities for collaboration that should be explored.”