By Andrew Soergel
For the second year in a row, Boxerwood had to charge $5 admission for nonmembers at its annual Fall Family Festival last weekend.
But a tight budget, from its loss of federal funding, did not dampen spirits at the 13th annual festival of the natural center and woodland garden just south of Lexington.
Dainty dancers, cheerful children and pleased parents packed the grounds last weekend for Boxerwood Fall Family Festival.
“My friend and I are teachers and we wanted to find something fun and educational to do with the children,” said Jan Pulliam-Hall, dodging clumps of dirt dug up by her daughter as she used a toy shovel and wheelbarrow.
“Some other people from the area have really raved about it, so we came this way,” she said.
Each year, the Boxerwood Education Association welcomes the community to an afternoon of outdoor exploration and education on its 15 acres of fields, trails and natural playgrounds that house more than 4,000 varieties of native vegetation.
“Make noise, move things around, touch anything, make friends, get dirty, be safe, have fun.” That’s the message in a list of rules for visitors posted outside Boxerwood’s primary nature trail.
Children eagerly followed the guidelines as they explored the trees, stumps and creeks that make up Boxerwood’s interactive living playground.
“Boxerwood is a wonderful community treasure. The bottom line is it’s educational and trying to teach stewardship starting at a young age,” said Mitch Wapner of Paradox Farm.
Wapner, 56, mans the cider-press station at Boxerwood every year. He can be heard throughout the day teaching visitors about old-fashioned apple-pressing—and reminding children to keep their fingers away from the machinery.
Boxerwood is a non-profit organization and relies on membership fees and donations to stay afloat. The Fall Family Festival and other Boxerwood events depend on volunteers like Wapner.
Neighboring the apple-press was a snack booth set up by Washington and Lee University’s Campus Kitchens, which drew steady crowds throughout the day.
But children flocked to the puppies and kittens brought to the event by the Rockbridge Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
“We love coming down here with the kids when we bring the animals,” said Rockbridge SPCA Director Jane Cornett. “Anytime we can get the animals out is a good time.”
The festival also supplied donut-making booths, weaving instruction, scavenger hunts, volleyball games and more.
“If nothing else, people usually enjoy walking through the garden on a beautiful day like today,” said Bruce Bytnar, Boxerwood’s managing director.
Bytnar, 57, helps organize Boxerwood’s various camps and activities throughout the year. The events cover topics like solar energy, watersheds and environmental responsibility.
Boxerwood’s goal is to teach children—from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade—about “becoming stewards of the earth,” says Bytnar.
“We have over 2,000 students in the Rockbridge Area from every school system in Rockbridge,” he says, “This weekend’s important because it’s an opportunity for families to come to Boxerwood together.”
Middle-earth Studios theater troupe and other entertainment groups have performed at the festival in the past, costing Boxerwood upwards of $900 last year alone.
This year, Halestone Dance Studios’ interpretive, hip-hop and ballet dance classes replaced the more expensive groups.
“We always follow [the Halestone Dancers] just about wherever they go, and we really wanted to come see them,” said grandmother Irene Thompson, whose granddaughter is involved with Halestone Studios.
Boxerwood had to charge $5 for admission in part to cuts in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). This charge could be waived if patrons purchased a $35 yearly membership to Boxerwood.
“Boxerwood has a fascinating history. It’s a nature center that’s been going on for decades now, and it’s one of the most special places in this part of Virginia,” says festival volunteer Lee Merrill, 64.
“It’s a cutting-edge environmental education facility, and it’s a resource for play and imagination and art-making in the community.”