Erin Smaldone is the Education Director at the West Virginia Botanic Garden. In the following interview with Eliza Newland, she shares information about the Botanic Garden’s mission, history, and current activities.

This interview is the fourth in a series of interviews featuring members of Mountaineer Country Museums, an organization based in Morgantown with a mission to support, promote, and develop local historic sites and museums, and to increase community awareness of their value. Members meet every other month and talk about issues and events within the local arts and history communities. If you are interested in joining us, please email at e.s.newland@gmail.com.

Hi, Erin! Tell me a little bit about the West Virginia Botanic Garden.

 The West Virginia Botanic Garden (WVBG) is an 85 acre site located in the Cheat Lake area of Morgantown. The property, which is managed by the non-profit organization the West Virginia Botanic Garden, Inc. under a long term lease with the City of Morgantown, includes the site of the former Tibbs Run Reservoir and surrounding forest land. The site is beautiful and diverse including many different types of forest, small open meadows, wetlands, and a small seasonal pond. Complimenting and adding to the natural beauty are the garden areas including many different types of plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees situated in different natural settings which helps to demonstrate to visitors what might work well on their own property. In addition to providing this special place for visitors to explore on their own, the WVBG also offers a wide variety of educational, social, and well-being focused activities including an educational walk and presentation series focusing on natural and horticultural topics, summer nature camps for children, yoga and wellness classes, family walks, and dinner parties catered by local area chefs. Opportunities for private group tours, school field trips, and private parties/meetings are also available. The mission of the WVBG is as follows: The West Virginia Botanic Garden, in harmony with nature, seeks to enhance the quality of life through public enjoyment and education involving inspirational landscapes and displays of a rich variety of ornamental plants appropriate to the region. All of us at the WVBG are passionate about supporting this mission and helping the Garden grow as an asset to the Morgantown community, state of West Virginia, and beyond.

What about you?

I am originally from Rhode Island. I earned my bachelors degree in ecology at the University of Vermont and my masters degree in environmental education at Southern Oregon University. My background includes jobs in environmental education and interpretation including several summers as an interpretive ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. My husband currently works at West Virginia University, which is what brought me to West Virginia.



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 Why did you get involved with the West Virginia Botanic Garden?

I live close to the WVBG and visited often with my husband when I first moved here. It seemed like the perfect place for me to work although at the time the organization was completely volunteer-run. So, I volunteered for about a year until the board voted to hire me as the Volunteer Coordinator/Education Director in 2009. The site and organization has progressed significantly in that time and I am proud to have been a part of that. I’m very excited about the direction we are headed and future possibilities for the site and educational/interpretive programming.

 What do you see as the West Virginia Botanic Garden’s role in Morgantown?

The benefits of spending time outdoors in nature to physical, mental, and emotional health are widely documented.The WVBG provides Morgantown residents and visitors with a beautiful natural site in which to recreate, relax, learn, and be inspired. I especially value the role we play in educating the public about natural history and horticulture/gardening. I also like the fact that we collaborate with many local individuals and organizations to conduct our programming. Together, we are able to provide many types of outreach on a variety of topics in a beautiful setting. As the Garden grows, we also anticipate the WVBG being an attraction for out of town visitors, bringing more people to our area and businesses.

 When is the West Virginia Botanic Garden open to the public?

The WVBG is open dawn to dusk every day of the year. Visitors are welcome to park in the upper parking area and walk and enjoy the site free of charge. The gate to the lower parking area is open on weekends, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from April through October. The gate is also open most weekdays as staffing permits.

 Does the West Virginia Botanic Garden have any special events or fundraisers?

Yes! As a non-profit organization, fundraising is very important to us. We also very much enjoy hosting our fundraising events. For several years, we have hosted “Garden Party” events which include a delicious meal, live music, fabulous auction items, and a fun time at the Garden. This year, we are hosting a fundraising dinner series with chefs from local restaurants preparing outstanding meals and then serving them to guests at the WVBG Welcome Center, who get to enjoy the meal with terrific views of the Garden. Another big event at the Garden is our annual Fall Children’s Festival. This is a free event open to the community featuring nature crafts, fairy house building, pumpkin painting, homemade snacks, special guests, and more. We love hosting this event for the community. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to encourage families to come out and enjoy the Garden. The festival was held on October 8 this year. The slightly wet weather didn’t hamper the fun at all, we had over 500 people in attendance and many community and student volunteers helping to make the magic happen.

 Is there anything else that you want people to know about the West Virginia Botanic Garden?

Although we are steadily growing in popularity, there are still many people who don’t even know we exist or have never come out to visit. Many times I have heard Morgantown residents exclaim “wow, how did I not know this was here, this is amazing!” So, I encourage everyone to come on out and visit and spread the word. If you enjoy the site and our programming, please consider becoming a member or making a donation. Both can easily be done on our website, www.wvbg.org. Thanks!