On the occasion of our 35th anniversary, Executive Director George Briggs shares this message of celebration:

On July 4th, America celebrates Independence Day and contemplates its past, present and future. Here at The North Carolina Arboretum, July 1st holds its own special meaning, marking another founding milestone: it was on that date 35 years ago that the North Carolina General Assembly created the Arboretum as an affiliate entity of The University of North Carolina System. As one fortunate to have been involved here since 1987, I am excited that there is clearly much to celebrate.

Although it was not until 1986, with enabling legislation, an initial budget, and funding for the first building, that the longstanding dream of an Arboretum in our mountain region flourished into reality, there were many notable steps to get to that point. Frederick Law Olmsted, for example, envisioned the world’s finest arboretum at Biltmore well over 100 years ago. During 1984, area leaders crafted the Western North Carolina Arboretum non-profit corporation. Then in 1985, the state legislature allocated funds for planning and land acquisition, a move that would clear the way the next year for the legislative establishment of a state Arboretum right here in Asheville.

Thirty-five years after its 1986 creation, the Arboretum now serves students of all ages, visitors from near and far, and has risen to a level of educational and economic importance that those early visionaries could only imagine. That rise has been particularly pronounced during the challenges of this past year. Growth in visitation, membership and private support has been, and continues to be, extraordinary. Perhaps more than ever, we now see how this institution addresses personal needs that we may not have previously recognized in ourselves: a place for reflection, a place for safe interface with nature, a place where we can learn to elevate our own  outdoor surroundings at home, and the time to be with friends and family in a comfortable and safe locale.

Thus, at the Arboretum during the past twelve months, we have found that rare place where dreams are dreamed, memories are made, plans planned, and imaginations turn into realities. Whereas the original ideas for an Arboretum centered on our wonderful regional ecology and its unique plant life, this 2021 Arboretum has flowered into much more than that. In a sense, this new Independence Day is freeing at an individual level as well as institutionally. There is now an interdependence between the place and its people as never before.

What do the next 35 years hold for The North Carolina Arboretum? Some of this promise resides in the recent master plan and in our initial planning for a capital campaign to realize its early priorities, but the real promise resides in the imagination and tenacity of future leaders, community, and the partnerships that have made the previous decades so successful.

How many people will find solace and self-discovery here? How many kids will be inspired toward science? How much impact will there be on health and wellness? How protected and intact will our regional ecology continue to be? How many lives will be enriched through engaging exhibits and learning? How will visionary planning impact our regional growth and density? In what form will the Arboretum continue to be an integral part of the broader University mission?

Over the decades ahead, these and many other questions and opportunities will confront the leadership of The North Carolina Arboretum.

As we celebrate these first 35 years at the Arboretum and anticipate celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday next year on April 26th, we will use the days and months in between to reflect on the significance of this new, broad independence that 2021 brings, how we got here, and the strides that come next.

We hope you will join us in relishing the occasion.

—  George