Columbia, Maryland is a place that I’ve generally loved to dislike. It’s an entity primarily made of cul-de-sacs, drab brown buildings from the 1970s, and chain restaurants. The mall is one of its main attractions. Granted, the street names are unique – but there aren’t many things to do once you’re on those streets. But as much as I disparage the town where I grew up for being young and suburban, I also think that every place must have something interesting.
Lake Elkhorn is a manmade lake in Columbia and a place where Columbia’s occasional event happens. In late September, my family went there for a dog-centric afternoon at the Walk for Paws, a charity walk and pet festival that benefits our local animal shelter.
While we walked, I noticed something I hadn’t seen on previous walks around the lake: a portion of the path has been designated an arboretum, with descriptive plaques in front of a number of trees.
My Weekly Museum Visits included three arboreta (Cylburn, Los Angeles County, and National). These places are expansive visitor destinations and informal learning environments, collectively including features such as a bonsai museum, a garden of prehistoric plants, gardens showcasing plants from around the world, gazebos and arbors, mansions, sculptures, a youth garden, a grove of every state’s official tree, composting toilets and exhibits on eco-friendly practices, formal gardens, sensory gardens, koi ponds, greenhouses, waterfalls, and trails meandering through the woods.
Lake Elkhorn boasts little in the way of exhibits or amenities, but turning the everyday – the already-existing trees along a path around a fake lake – into an arboretum, into an opportunity for learning, serves as a reminder that learning can happen anywhere. Places that are not actually museums can nonetheless be enhanced by incorporating some of the features that make museums great.