Glenstone Museum is the gift that keeps on giving – and giving. Its generosity is positively sustainable, a refrain and focus of the museum’s new Environmental Center that opened to the public on April 25.
At the opening ceremony, Emily Wei Rales, museum director and co-founder, introduced the 7,200-square-foot Environmental Center by way of backstory. She said that being the mother of two “children helped her acquire an environmental consciousness,” and that she and her husband Mitch Rales are as “committed to caring for our grounds as we are to caring for our art.” As proof, the Rales have not put a single chemical on the property, where they also live, since 2010.
Like the rest of the Glenstone compound, the new Environmental Center is privately funded by the Rales as their legacy, home and passion. This experiential facility represents a giant step forward in environmental stewardship so central to the mission of Glenstone, which is known for a landscape that thoughtfully complements the Rales’ globally-recognized private art collection.
Emily Wei Rales, museum director and co-founder, introduced the 7,200-square-foot Environmental Center.
Courtesy of Montgomery County Government
The new facility is a model for all institutions, businesses and homes. It’s a how-to museum where visitors can learn about sustainable practices and bring them home. It’s also one of the coolest field trips around, although admission is restricted to ages 12 and older. Hands-on presentations and exhibits focus on organic landscaping, composting, recycling, reforestation, management of invasive species, stream restoration and water management.
The Rales teed-up their remarks with inspirational assertions emphasizing the role and responsibility to the land and our children. “We feel that everyone has an interest in environmental stewardship. Everyone can play a role,” she said.
Glenstone’s Chief Sustainability Officer Paul Tukey spoke to the dedication of the 130-person Glenstone groundskeeping team. “They weaned off of conventional practices without sacrificing anything,” he said. He described the Glenstone family as “all in,” a phrase often wrapped around the Rales’ endeavors, be they artistic or earthly.
Tukey added, “We are by no means done. This is a work in progress.” The grounds crew has planted 8,000 trees in five years. They recycle 80 percent of their office waste and food scraps. Composting is commonplace.
Conservation efforts are not confined to Glenstone’s nearly 300 acres. They ripple throughout the county. Along with Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation, Glenstone arranged for anyone who takes the 301 Ride On bus to the museum to receive guaranteed entry. While Glenstone is free to all, reservations can be hard to come by. The Ride On program was intended to end in April, but at the opening event it was announced that the program will be extended indefinitely. To date, more than 1,200 riders have arrived at Glenstone by Ride On. Tukey calls this yet another example of “the dream of Glenstone” which has always “lived outside the box.”
Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment, spoke to the “public shrine of sustainability” that Glenstone has become and punctuated his respect for the Glenstone grounds with a Dostoyevsky quote. “Beauty will save the world,” he said, before asking for a moment of silence so that the birds — chirping cheerfully in the background — could have a word. “Glenstone provides hope and inspiration at a time when we need it most,” he added. “There is love in this land.”
When Montgomery County Executive Elrich took the podium, he exuded off-script gratitude. “Thank you for restoring 9,200 feet of stream,” he began. “You are proof of what we can do,” he said about what has been called the world’s most sustainable museum. After making a plug for Montgomery County’s historic ban of pesticides on county-owned property, Elrich ended on a cautionary note: “It’s a shame to continue to act in a way that harms the environment when we know better.”
The event closed with Elrich awarding the Rales a Montgomery County Green Business recertification certificate. Its frame was, appropriately, recycled.
The Environmental Center at Glenstone, 12100 Glen Road, Potomac. is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. It is a self-guided experience. Glenstone associates and experts also offer regular programming for visitors interested in learning more about sustainability practices. Admission is free and visits can be scheduled online at www.glenstone.org. Same-day visits can be scheduled using the website. Riders who arrive on the 301 Ride On bus are welcome anytime.