When the Caroline County Commissioners signed a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) on March 10, Adkins Arboretum was given the green light to move forward with a $780,000 Transportation Enhancement Program (TEP) grant and break ground on its new Visitor’s Center later this year. The grant requires a government co-sponsor for any projects from a non-government organization.
“Adkins Arboretum offers one of the best experiences anyone can have,” commented Jack Cole, president of the Caroline County Commissioners. “Having the facilities to share that experience with more people is important to Caroline County and all the visitors the Arboretum attracts.”
The Arboretum Visitor’s Center will serve as an interpretive center for the region’s natural heritage, with a focus on the scenic qualities of the native landscape. The new Visitor’s Center is designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and will be a significant model for environmentally responsible and sustainable living to the visitors served. The new Visitor’s Center will use nontoxic, recycled, and local materials, an innovative energy-efficient heating and cooling system, and other sustainable building methods.
Introduced by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), TEP requires each state to set aside 10 percent of its Surface Transportation Program funds for transportation enhancement projects. The legislation stresses mobility and protection of the environment, community preservation, sustainability and livability. TEP funds are available for investment in non-traditional projects that may include building hiker/biker trails, purchasing easements to preserve historic properties, constructing tourist welcome centers along state highways, or conducting historical archaeology projects.
“We are so pleased to have the commissioners’ support on this project,” commented Ellie Altman, Adkins Arboretum Executive Director. “We’re excited to break ground on our new Visitor’s Center and welcome more of the traveling public to the Arboretum. Caroline County is a great place to spend time outdoors and enjoy our unique history and heritage.”
Adkins Arboretum is located in Ridgely at the junction of Caroline, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot counties. A year-round destination for the traveling public, the Arboretum welcomes more than 17,000 annual visitors and is easily accessible by state highways, including Routes 50, 301, and 404. The Arboretum also connects to the state’s greenway and scenic byway systems. The new Visitor’s Center will provide shelter, restrooms, refreshments and parking for trail users walking the Arboretum’s paths and using its interpretive programs.
The expansion plans supported by the TEP grant encompass phased-in construction of an additional 9,500 square feet to the existing Visitor’s Center, with reconfiguration of the Arboretum’s entranceway and parking areas for easier access and immediate immersion of visitors into the Arboretum experience and its conservation mission. Located adjacent to Tuckahoe State Park, the new facilities will host year-round programs and seasonal events promoting the conservation of the Chesapeake region’s native landscape and the value of sustainable ‘green’ living.
The Arboretum’s existing Visitor’s Center, a 4,000-square-foot building, was built in 1985 by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Under a 50-year lease agreement with Maryland DNR, the nonprofit organization Adkins Arboretum, Ltd. operates and finances the Arboretum, with leadership from a Board of Trustees and more than 150 active volunteers who facilitate programming, docent-led tours and more.
Four miles of paths travel from the current Visitor’s Center through a diverse setting of 400 acres of native forests, wetlands, meadows and streams. With expansion and renovation, the new ‘green’ Visitor’s Center will help to meet an expanding visitorship, engaging children and adults from throughout the region with programs and outreach that focus on the unique local heritage of the Eastern Shore. Fundraising continues for the Campaign to Build a Green Legacy—the campaign supporting the expansion plans, with the new Native Garden Gateway representing the second phase of improvements needed for the Arboretum.
The Arboretum’s capital expansion is supported by public and private funding, including individual and private foundation contributions, Maryland capital bond bills and grants from Maryland Historical Trust, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Marcia Brady Tucker Foundation. An additional $1.2 million is needed for the Native Garden Gateway phase of renovations.
Adkins Arboretum is the only public garden dedicated to teaching about the native flora of the Mid-Atlantic coastal plain. The concept of an arboretum dedicated to plants native to its region is different from the conventional arboretum or public garden, where the grounds are cultivated for the display of a worldwide collection of plants. “Native plants not only add beauty to the landscape,” said Altman, “but help us to conserve water, support natural habitats and sustain the scenic characteristics of the land that surrounds our beautiful Chesapeake Bay.” The Arboretum is open daily, with a staffed visitor’s center and self-guided audio tours available. Call 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or visit www.adkinsarboretum.org for more information.