Beating a peppy tempo on snare and bass drums, wearing white tights, boots, glitter and pompoms, the marching team strutted up the winding road under full morning sun, heading for a big Saturday event at … Cylburn Arboretum?
Cylburn Arboretum, pastoral enclave of garden clubs, bird lovers and genteel ladies in large hats — that Cylburn Arboretum?
Yes, that one.
The "Dream Nation" marching unit was invited from the Cylburn community across Greenspring Avenue because it was the arboretum's grand opening after an 18-month hiatus and a new day at the preserve. A new visitor and education center, new greenhouse classroom and better roads — about $6 million in improvements paid for with private and government funds — mean the place will hold more events and try to raise its profile in the city.
"It's going to get a lot busier," said Darragh Brady, board president of the Cylburn Arboretum Association. "There are going to be a lot more people on the grounds."
About 100 showed up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning, sitting in white folding chairs to hear a lineup of city, state and federal officials extend thanks and mark the significance of the day.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said he started his day on a glum note, reading about the oil gushing from an well in the Gulf of Mexico.
He said unconventional classrooms are necessary for children "to understand what the environment is all about. This is that classroom."
He stood in front of the Vollmer Center, the new environmentally friendly visitors and education center. Built of glass, steel and slate left over from shingle-making operations, the 10,000-square-foot building is equipped with a geothermal heating system meant to save on utility bills, composting toilets built to save a half-million gallons of water a year and a green roof designed to curb rain runoff.
The building includes an auditorium that seats more than 200, allowing the arboretum to accommodate events that could not have been held in the 19th-century mansion that has served as the preserve's operations center since it opened in 1954. It was then known as the Cylburn Wildflower Preserve and Garden Center, and was under the direction of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.
More than two miles of walking trails on the 207-acre grounds wind through gardens, wild flowers, stands of magnolias, pawpaws, Japanese maples and other trees, greenhouses and a carriage house.
"Before, everybody had to filter in, find their way to the mansion," Brady said. The Vollmer Center will make it easier to stop for information or a bathroom break.
"In a sense, it's our front door," said Melissa Grim, acting head of the city Recreation and Parks horticultural division.
The building will accommodate offices of the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland and the Horticultural Society of Maryland, and provide space for lectures.
"It gives us better visibility," said Lissa Williamson of Severna Park, past president of the Federated Garden Clubs, adding that in the past the clubs often had to rent various spaces to hold such events.
"We want people to know they can come here, take care of their plants, learn good horticultural habits," Williamson said.
The building is named for gardening enthusiast Pauline Vollmer of Ruxton, who donated $1 million for the construction, with the condition that the money be matched. The city did so with public funds.
Vollmer, a native of Kansas who has lived in this area since the early 1950s, said she originally intended to leave the money in her will, but decided to make the donation a few years ago.
"It isn't often that you can give a gift and have someone take it over and make it a success," she told the audience.
Grim said donations made the entire project possible. Along with the Vollmer donation and city money, significant fundraising was also done by the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, the Horticultural Society of Maryland and the Cylburn Arboretum Association. Federal funds also contributed through Program Open Space allocations.