Orchard Oriole

Dorchester County photographer, Bill Whaley, Bill Whaley Photography captured this Baltimore oriole on film in a nearby orchard.

RIDGELY — Adkins Arboretum observed its 40th anniversary in May in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, a testament to the continued resilience of the nature center situated between Hillsboro and Ridgely.

Dedicated May 17, 1980, the arboretum has temporarily suspended staffed on-site programming due to COVID-19 restrictions including a planned birthday celebration featuring complimentary admission and free cake. All five miles of walking trails at the Eveland Road facility remain accessible during daylight hours, however, while other offerings have been transitioned to online alternatives.

Recognition Day, as the May anniversary is dubbed, was a chance to reflect on both the creation and evolution of Adkins Arboretum. The concept for such an ecological attraction in the area predates 1980 and is integrally connected to the history of another environmentally sensitive location nearby. The state of Maryland began acquiring land for Tuckahoe State Park in 1962 before becoming operational in 1975. A proposal for an adjacent but separate nature center was suggested to complement it, with the Department of Natural Resources as early as 1971 envisioning a “Tuckahoe State Park Arboretum” on site.

The idea was first floated to declare U.S. Route 301 a “green corridor” of sorts during roughly the same period. This 45-mile “Eastern Shoreway” would have been a “linear arboretum” stretching from Queenstown to the Delaware line. That vision was never actualized for several logistical, commercial and political reasons, but its rejection may have hastened the development of Adkins Arboretum.

Plans for such a facility moved forward in 1979 when substantial funding via a private endowment was secured. Without its initial benefactor, Leon Andrus, Adkins Arboretum as a standalone entity may not exist today.

The Wall Street veteran, newspaper publisher, and tree enthusiast, residing in the nearby Carmichael area of Queen Anne’s County, contributed stock shares then valued at $31,000 to establish a foundation for sustaining the facility and bequeathed additional financial resources upon his death in 1989.

Andrus insisted the arboretum be named for a local friend and fellow conservationist, William H. Adkins II, rather than after himself.

The original Recognition Day program in 1980 christened the facility in grand style. Andrus, by then in his early 90s, was a featured speaker. In addition, the daylong celebration offered hot air balloon launches, a kite-flying contest, a youth fishing derby, a chicken barbecue, myriad demonstrations, guided walking tours and giveaways that included dogwood seedlings and black-eyed Susans.

At its inception, the arboretum was designed to showcase various types of trees that are indigenous to Maryland. The original layout as conceived comprised three distinct zones: Western Maryland trees such as white pine, hemlock, pitch pine, and yellow poplar; local oak and Virginia pine trees among others; and more southerly types including loblolly pine and bald cypress trees.

Eventually Adkins programming moved in the direction of rebranding as “A Chesapeake Nature Garden” featuring plants original to the Delmarva Peninsula. Currently there are over 600 species of native shrubs, trees, wildflowers, meadow grasses and ferns growing on the property.

In a typical year, the 18,000 visitors Adkins Arboretum averages can expect a wide array of activities. In addition to the varied hiking trails, programming includes horticulture classes, indoor art exhibits, food labs, scientific lectures, Underground Railroad interpretation, resident goats, youth summer camps and seasonal plant sales.

The coronavirus shutdown may have disrupted these traditional offerings for now, but it has not prevented staff from continuing the mission of the private non-profit organization that manages the arboretum. The popular spring plant sale, for instance, was simply shifted online. Similarly, another sustaining fundraiser, a membership drive, continued via digital means through May 30.

Though the visitor center remains closed for the time being, self-directed outdoor activities are widely available. Guests may bike or walk paths throughout the 400-acre dog-friendly arboretum. Bird enthusiasts will likely encounter several of the 175 different species that have to date been spotted on site; nature photographers may also enjoy capturing the meandering Blockston Branch stream as it makes its way through the rear of the property before heading into Queen Anne’s County as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“We look forward to warmly welcoming our visitors in person and resuming programs and events when the time is right," Executive Director Ginna Tiernan said, "In the meantime, we will keep the Arboretum grounds open and well-tended for all to enjoy, explore, learn and find solace and joy in nature.”

Consult adkinsarboretum.org for dedicated resources, updates and other pertinent information.

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