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Jill Koski – 2021 Community Leader of the Year, Environment & Sustainability

Thu., Nov. 4, 2021

Holden Forests & Gardens is proud to share that Community Leader magazine, a publication of Cleveland Magazine, has awarded our President and CEO with a Community Leader of the Year award. Here’s the profile in this month’s issue. Congratulations to Jill and to the entire HF&G Team!

Holden Forests & Gardens’ president and CEO believes in the power of trees to heal and inspire.

Jill Koski grew up in the shadow of a towering white oak — and the impression it left on her is as mighty as that oak itself.

“It served a core purpose in our lives,” she says. “Growing up as a kid, I was just connected. I always loved living things.”

It’s no surprise then that Koski spent much of her career at Shedd Aquarium and the Morton Arboretum (both in the Chicago area) before coming to Cleveland in 2017 to serve as president and CEO of Holden Forests & Gardens.

What Clevelanders might not recognize, she says, is the innovation that takes place at the organization. In 2014, Holden Arboretum merged with Cleveland Botanical Garden to create Holden Forests & Gardens, which is the 14th largest public garden in the country. Each year, it draws nearly 400,000 visitors and boasts 17,000 members.

“There is nothing else that fits this model in the country,” Koski says. “We have two different faces — one urban and one rural.”

The result is a stunning array of opportunities to connect to nature, including a canopy walk amongst the trees, more than 20 miles of trails around lakes and through woodlands, two highly curated glasshouses, manicured gardens, a children’s garden, special events and more. 

“There are so many possibilities,” Koski says.

Now, Koski and her team want to push beyond the borders of the gardens with the new 2021 People for Trees volunteer campaign to plant 15,000 trees in Northeast Ohio by 2025, which was made possible by a $200,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation. Participants can simply plant a tree on their own property or make a donation allowing a tree to be planted where it’s needed most.

“It really comes down to the benefits of health and wellness,” Koski says. “This is especially true in more urban areas.”

Koski has plans to plant two trees in her own yard — a river birch and a witch hazel. No sapling can replace the canopy formed by old-growth trees, of course, but it’s a start to repairing the devastation caused by the emerald ash borer, which has killed upward of 200 million ash trees in the U.S.

Koski envisions neighborhoods where saplings are nurtured and grow into trees that will both consciously and subconsciously make a difference in the lives of those who encounter them — just like her white oak did for her growing up. 

“I hope everybody can get connected at whatever level they want,” Koski says. “Especially in the past 18 months, we all see how important nature is not only for our physical well-being, but also for our mental well-being.”

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Margaret Thresher Public Relations Director 216.212.1782 Email

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