The great outdoors is more than just an element of life here in the mountains. It’s a living, breathing passion. It’s why hundreds of thousands of visitors visit Western North Carolina every year. And it’s why many stay and make it their home.
Asheville is a conservation-oriented area and has always drawn those attracted to the inherent beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. Live in the mountains long enough, and you begin to understand why it is so important to protect them. The North Carolina Arboretum, a 434-acre tract of land home to one of the most botanically diverse ecosystems in the United States, is an incredible statement to this foundation.
Now 25 years old, the Arboretum is a facility of North Carolina’s university system, and is a model in environmentally conscious, sustainable development. Its work is broad and far reaching, from public efforts, campaigns, and services, to vital environmental research, the details of which most Ashevillians will never know. If you’ve been to Downtown After Five, LAAFF, or Bele Chere, then you’ve seen evidence of its work with the ubiquitous blue recycling containers—manned by at least one volunteer per can, they are fairly hard to miss. The Arboretum works with numerous community partners, nonprofits, volunteers, and donors to provide a staggeringly wide range of things that support its mission of connecting people to plants through conservation, education, garden demonstration, research, and economic development.
Frederick Law Olmsted: The Arboretum’s Visionary
Considered the father of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmstead is a name you’re sure to see all over the Arboretum campus. The man famous for his involvement with New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, and numerous college campuses across America envisioned such a venue—almost a century before it came to be—as his legacy to the work he did for George Vanderbilt at the Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore Estate was his final major project, and he was unable to see the estate’s planned arboretum to fruition.
Pack a Picnic: Get Intimate with Nature
The best way to enjoy the Arboretum, and to begin getting acquainted, is to spend some time on the grounds. It’s a pleasant way to appreciate a long summer afternoon or an crisp fall morning, and with over ten miles of hiking and biking trails, and 65 acres of cultivated gardens, you are certain to see something different with every visit. The quilt gardens are ablaze with color and patterns through the summer, and the landscape changes almost daily in the most subtly beautiful and surprising ways. The walkways and paths march straight and planned just as often as they wind and end in suggestive ways, and the vegetation is almost always marked with a small placard, naming the plant, so you can carry home the names of your favorites. Ponds, streams, and fountains are scattered through the gardens, but are rare enough to be a welcome change during a walk.
More Than a Pretty Face: Economic Development Initiatives
While most visitors will only appreciate the Arboretum for its natural beauty, and rightly so, there is much more beneath the surface. The Arboretum leads many economic development initiatives related to their mission to support the regional and statewide economy. The Bent Creek Institute, for example, supports business development for specialty crop growers and botanical medicine farmers in North Carolina by providing research and market development opportunities, as well public outreach to bring international attention to Western North Carolina’s unique ecological diversity.
The Arboretum’s Soil & Water initiative supports their dedication to Low Impact Development (LID) through classes and training for architects and builders, landscape designers, and natural resource managers on how to minimize the impact of construction and land development when it pertains to water runoff. The training covers everything from site design for hydrological impact, to treating and removing polluted storm water.
Their collaborations and partnerships are many, but they never stray too far from the core values. As more and more land is developed in the Western North Carolina region, the Arboretum’s work will become increasingly important to conserving the richness of the area’s biological culture and helping our area continue to push towards environmentally friendly and sustainable development.
The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way in Asheville. For more information, contact 828.665.2492 or visit ncarboretum.org.